Monday, December 23, 2013


by Jamie Goodsell
All images © Jo McCaughey

There's more to taking a picture than just pushing a button. The great photographers have the ability to slow down the world around them. They have the foresight to know when to capture, the creativity to see something inspiring and freeze it forever. Where does this ability come from you ask? Well my dear friends, it comes from the heart. There is such an obvious distinction between a photographer who is forcing their work and one who is truly expressing it from within. Not everyone possesses this internal magic and grace, it takes a person who is as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Jo McCaughey is one of those people and her photographs never fail to reflect that. 


My first impression of you, was your ability to maneuver through a crowd without making anyone angry. Getting to know you, you're such a cheerful person. What keeps you so happy? 
When I'm working I'm happy, I'm comfortable in that realm. I'm comfortable if I have my camera in my hands. I'm quite a shy person and I suppose it is a comfort and a weapon to me. I can view whatever is going on in my own way and take from it what I want. 

Where did you grow up? 
I grew up in northern England in a small town called York in North Yorkshire. My family would be considered (the American term would be) very blue collar, factory workers. I grew up in a household where there wasn't much art or culture around me at all. I would get to choose what I did on my birthday and I would always choose to go to the cinema. So I would get to see one movie a year guaranteed and that was my biggest treat. 

What was one of the first films that you remember being in awe of? 
The original King Kong is probably one of my earliest movie memories that I watched probably way too early in my life. It's never left my psyche ever. 

So you didn't grow up in very artistic surroundings, what influenced you to start taking pictures? 
There are very few pictures of me as a child in existence, there's very few. Even as a child I had this obsession with documenting my childhood or whenever I could be old enough. I think it was maybe when I was around ten, I just wanted a camera. I saved up some tokens from a cereal box and got this camera from Rice Crispies and it was this plastic little thing that took 35mm film. It was terrible, but it was my first camera. Every school trip I would go on I would take this thing and shoot my friends. I think I was making up for the lack of documentation in my childhood. In my teen years I constantly documented my existence and my friends lives. 

When did you realize that being a photographer was something you could do as a profession? 
When I realized that it was something I could study was more important first. My upbringing didn't make me think that you could actually study any kind of form of creating or art as an education. Not even as a career, as an education and it was never given to me that it was an option. I went to what is called college in the UK. It's the equivalent of high school in the United States. It's before what you would call college in America and those two years you get to choose certain topics that you like. I really didn't know what I wanted to do, so I just did what they advised me to do. Only when I was walking around this new school, I got lost one day and went down to the basement and they had a darkroom down there! I had no idea what it was and the teacher was like, "Well you can study photography here." I wanted to change my whole agenda there but I couldn't. But even at that time, finding out that people studied this was incredible. I was so sheltered my entire childhood, it blew my mind that people thought photography was 1.Art and 2.That there could be some existence of living from it. 

So did you end up studying it? 
I decided to move to London when I was nineteen. I got into a great university in London called Central Saint Martins on a full grant. They have a wonderful photography center there and I applied never thinking for one minute they would accept me, but they did. When I got to London, I instantly started applying for internships and I was accepted to intern at the NME (which is a musical weekly magazine in the UK). I literally dropped out of college instantly (laughs). It got me to London and I was instantly working. Well I was trying to do both, trying to do my college classes and intern at this magazine. I did that for almost a year full-time and they would be calling me during lectures and being like, "We're on deadline, where is this stuff!?" and I was like, "I am at college!" Back then it was run by great people and in the end they realized that I just worked there and they gave me a job. Everything I learned was from my time at the magazine and around other photographers. I never learned anything from college but that's only because I never went. I instantly fell into the job of my dreams. 

Was there a photographer who you looked up to when you were starting out? 
Complete 101, Pennie Smith. I mean to this day her pictures to me are the total epiphany of Rock 'n' Roll photography. It can't be beaten. She's a British lady and she was photographing the whole punk scene in the '70s. She did the cover of "London Calling" and she's just taken so many great pictures. She fundamentally is known for her black and white photography. When I was at the NME, it was the first time The Strokes had ever been photographed in England (in New York, but for the NME) and they sent Pennie Smith out. I remember the package came from New York and I got to open it and look through all of her contact sheets. Her process, the way she shoots…it was life changing for me. As far as rock photography goes or whatever you want to call it, she was the best and she's a woman too, which I like. 

Was there any other genre of photography that you liked or discovered before you started taking pictures of musicians? 
Before I was just taking pictures of my life and people around me. Musicians just became an extension of that because it's more like a documentation. I just like people and taking pictures of people. Interesting people where I can connect with them on some level. It's easy for me because I love music and it kind of came together easily where I understood this world to a degree. When I started, the musicians were just kids my age. I was just shooting these talented people that were around me that were making great music. I was completely inspired by it and that's what I wanted to capture. As time goes on, I've grown with the people I've photographed and I've met new people and there is nothing more energizing or beautiful than photographing a pure talent. It's easy, it makes my job easy. I have to believe in my subjects, otherwise I don't give a true and honest image. 

What did you do after NME? 
I worked there in my early twenties and then I became a freelance photographer. Through the NME I met a lot of people, my job there was to organize photo shoots and I was the assistant photo editor for the whole magazine. So my job was to arrange shoots, come up with concepts, edit the shoot, and it taught me all of that. I didn't realize it at the time but I was training myself to be an amazing self editor. I'm not one of those photographers who will send in a hundred images, I know my images and I know which ones are the ones. It gave me a great editing eye. 


What insight can you give us about working with publications? 
It's all about building relationships in terms that they know they can come to you and you're going to deliver, and it's up to you to keep pushing yourself to deliver more. That's the hardest thing I think with photography or any medium of art is to deliver more for yourself constantly and excite yourself. That's the challenge you have to give yourself, you have to give more constantly and surprise people constantly and you'll never be lost for work if you do that…maybe. 

Can we touch base on black and white images vs. color? I'd like to hear your thoughts on both and also what makes you decide to shoot one or the other. 
Fundamentally when I began I only shot black and white, always. Only when I got a digital camera did I start shooting color and that was mainly for the magazines when everything was leading up to digital. So I work with it, but I will always have love for black and white film. Although all the films that I've ever used are now all pretty much out of production. I always used to shoot with the Fuji 1600  black and white film but it's long gone. I can still find a few rolls every now and again on eBay, it makes me sad. I love black and white, I just do. It's just romantic to me. I love color photography but my color photography tends to be all my digital work and if I'm shooting film I tend to shoot black and white. I'm going to shoot as much black and white as I can before it all just disappears.

When did you start shooting live music? 
When I was interning at the NME, the live editor at the time was a guy called Andy Capper who now is one of the main editors at Vice. He would give me free passes (almost as a treat because I was interning for free). He said, "I can give you photo passes to any show that you want," so I would look at what shows were going on and he would give me access. I would bring the images in and I would show him, (he was my number one critic and supporter) and he would never be polite. He would tell me straight up, "That's good, that's crap, that's good, that's crap" and it's when I started growing my thick skin that you need to be told that what you're doing is not so great and to go back and do it better. I would, week after week and eventually after maybe four or five months he gave me a job at this tiny show where the picture was tiny on the page but to me it was the world. He trusted me, he finally trusted me to shoot something for the magazine and that's when they started using me all of the time. 

What do you enjoy about shooting live music? 
It's like the show is for me. I'm watching through my camera and it's a more intense experience a lot of the time cause I can really focus on what is grabbing my attention and really hone in on it. I can only take great pictures of live musicians I am in tune with because then I'm in it and I know what's happening and I'm in the groove, I'm part of the whole moving animal that is the live show and that's when I know I can capture it before it's about to happen...I'm ready. The fact that anything can happen at any time and it's out of my control completely. It's a living beast and it's out of even the others control, the whole room, the whole thing, the whole audience, everyone is partaking in what's about to happen and will fundamentally decide what my image will be. 

How did you develop your own personal style of portraiture?
Over the years, I've found things that work for me. Empathy is important to me, emotion, and people. I want to show or expose any level of realness. Something real, there has to be emotion for me. That's what I look for in other peoples images and it's what draws me in and it's what makes me click my camera when I view it.  

So you stop and reevaluate what's in front of you based off of emotion? 
Yes, it's number one…it's right up there. If there's no emotion then there's no image. 

What tips could you give about planning a photo shoot? 
You're an idiot if you don't plan. You'll get lost (you can get lucky) but timing is everything. 
It depends on the scenario, but if you have the luxury to plan, get everyone you know around you who is talented, who can help you and bring good energy to the shoot. Make it a good time and make a creatively good team. 

Can you give us any insight on your editing process? What are you looking for when you make a selection of your own images? 
I'm way more brutal in picking my own images than anybody else's, always have been. I always know when it works and when it doesn't. Even when I'm taking it, normally I'm aware. I know which ones are it before I even go through the editing process. Just be honest with yourself and just know when you've got a good shot. I think all good photographers know when they've got a good shot. Just do an A and B list, forget C and D (laughs). Just trust in yourself and know your good shots because they're the right ones. 

How did you get started with video and why do you think it's important for a photographer to know how to do video? 
It's the nature of the beast nowadays and I've always loved video. In fact, my dream was always to go to film school because I love documentaries and I love movies. Film is really my true, true love. Documentaries mostly and I know more about documentary film making probably than I do about photography. 

What was one of your first video projects? 
I did a video for a band in Britain called The Duke Spirit. They asked me to do a Super 8 video for them and it was the first time I was commissioned to do something on film. 

What kind of photography would you be doing if it wasn't music related? 
I think as I get older it's less and less music, in fact. I'm about to go to L.A. over the weekend to go see a show by a lady called Vivian Maier. She's no longer alive but in the '30s and '40s she did amazing street photography in New York and Chicago. She was a nanny her whole life, I'm sure you've probably heard of her. I love live photography and I love musicians but there's this whole other side of me which is all about kind of documentary street photography that really I find so fascinating and I look forward to getting into. My joy comes out of just stumbling across some mishap of beauty out there and capturing that moment.

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