Behind the Photograph - John MacLean

Photography on a Postcard is back for its second year as the official charity partner of Photo London. The exhibition includes over 500 photographs - each an edition of 1 - generously donated by world-leading photographers. World-renowned photographer John MacLean has kindly donated work to this year’s auction. We met with him to discover more about his work and the stories behind his photographs!

John MacLean - Hometown of John Gossage, Staten Island, New York -


What makes a great photograph for you?

A great photograph is like a great person—it is something I would like to spend time with. A great photograph is both intelligent and mysterious. When I am in 'conversation' with a great photograph I feel a connection—but am always left wanting more. I go back to great photographs again and again.

Tell us about your process when creating a series of photographs. How do you decide which stories/subjects to explore?

I usually work on a number of projects at once. As I progress, some projects fall away—because they are neither interesting enough nor show enough potential. Hopefully… I am eventually left with one project which excites me—and I can throw my energy into it. The alternative would be to have nothing to work on which would be terrible—like being becalmed in a boat at sea. So yes, I note down lots of project ideas in the hope that I will always have one to explore.


You have two sides to your practise - fine art photography and architectural photography - how much does each practise influence the other?

I am aware that I feed the frustrations of my commercial work into my fine art work, that’s for sure. But the flip side is that it’s often wonderful to work to a commercial brief—because I know exactly what is required! The ‘transaction’ in the fine art world is so nebulous by comparison. I think one side of my practice acts as a ‘life raft’ for the other!

Do you have any exciting projects coming up you can tell us about?

I am currently working on a project called 'Your Nature’. The question ‘What makes us who we are?’ is one I also had in mind during my previous project ‘Hometowns’ where I photographed the childhood neighbourhoods of my art heroes. But in ‘Your Nature’ I aim to cast my imagination further back to create metaphors for aspects of human nature and its evolution, primarily by photographing the natural environment and how we react to it.


John MacLean - Hometown of Gabriel Orozco, San Angel, Mexico City -
Back to blog