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“To represent the designer’s intent in it purest form”: The art of the photographer with Shannon McGrath

Integral to architecture and design is capturing the finished project through the lens and the expert eye of the photographer. In a new series, The Photographers, we present those whose professional life involves photographing all manner of commercial and residential architecture and design.

“To represent the designer’s intent in it purest form”: The art of the photographer with Shannon McGrath

Photographer Shannon McGrath.

The men and women profiled belong to the Image Makers Association of Australia, an organisation that has partnered with the 2023 INDE.Awards in two new categories this year, The Photographer – Commercial and The Photographer – Residential.

We explore what makes each of these photographers tick, how they began their careers and why they chose to pursue architecture and design as their subject, as well as finding out a little more about them and their craft.

Today we profile Shannon McGrath.

How did you come to photography? 

I was mostly interested in architecture and interiors, light and space so after failing to study Interior Design, I did a degree in Fine Art (ceramics) which then lead me to a study of architecture, space and light, which in turn led me to photography. I did not necessarily want to be a photographer, I just used photography as a medium to be involved with architecture and interiors.

What do you most enjoy about your profession? 

Of course, the exceptional design but mostly it’s the people behind the design that I give me the most joy. It’s the relationships that I have fostered over my time as a photographer that continue to keep growing and keep it interesting.

What drew you to focus on architecture and design?

I have always been interested in space and light. It’s hard to define what draws me to this I just know that this is it. Recently I completed my Masters in Fine Art which helped me to define why I do what I do and it really comes down to the bodily experience interacting with three dimensional spaces and re-interpreting this onto a two dimensional plane — the photograph.

How do you see the role of the photographer in architecture and design? 

Really at the end of each project, after the architect or designer has spent their three months or three years working to have their project completed, it’s the photography that they then take away. It’s the final piece in the puzzle to pin point their work and how that then contributes to the greater community in design information.

Related: Darling Quarter South with Hassell and Hammond Studio

What is the most important aspect for you in capturing a project through the lens? 

To represent the designer’s intent in it purest form.

What is a usual day for you when you are on a shoot? 

Usually if I have not completed a pre-visit before shoot day, we scope the project then decide where is best to start or where is ready from the stylists set up. If it’s a commercial project we go where meetings are not booked and work around the office. If it’s residential then it’s where the light is best. Generally, we have to be out of the space by the end of the day so we need to work steadily and get through it to give the owner’s house back as it was.

What equipment do you use? What is the most important item? 

I’m a Canon user. The reason is that I rely heavily on my shift lenses. The first half of my career, a good decade ago, I shot film on a 5 x 4 camera and this really taught me how to use shift. The transition into digital was only a medium move, I still continued to use the camera as I would have if I was on a 5 x 4 with my shift techniques.

Are there other areas of photography that you pursue in your spare time?

As I originally started in Fine Art before photography and have recently completed my Masters in Fine Art which was a wonderful exploration. I am having some time out from my art practice but hope to pick it up again one day.

What advice would you give to someone just commencing in the profession as an architecture and design photographer?

All I would say is don’t give up, as wonderful as the path may be, it has its ups and downs, any freelance career has its ups and downs. Remain keen as when it is good its good — you go places that most people won’t. It’s a very physical job so you need to be fit, the rest you can learn.

Who has inspired you in your photography career and why? 

I have never really followed any other photographer as for me it’s about art and artists. Minimalist artist Donald Judd is my mecca and God, his concrete squares placed in a field — all time beauty! The man-made structure integrated into nature.

What is the most important thing that you have learnt so far on your journey as a photographer? 

Keep pushing and developing your style. Over my 25 years I still do this, I want to refine my craft so I am forever evolving.

Do you have other pursuits or hobbies beside photography that you would like to share with us? 

Yes, I have a farm — this is my happy place. I’m planning to start up short stay accommodation as well as potentially thinking about starting a small bespoke native flower farm. Completely different to photography but still beautiful and outdoors.

Shannon McGrath

We think you might also like this article about the work of Australia’s foremost architecture and design photographers, enitled 1 SHOT 22 – Defining Moments in the Built Environment.

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