Celebrity portraitist Richard McLaren to open photo show at new Aspen gallery
IF YOU GO …
What: Richard McLaren photo exhibition
Where: Taylor Daine Goulet Gallery, 402 S. Hunter St., Aspen
When: Opening reception Saturday, Jan. 13, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
You may not know the name Richard McLaren. But you probably recognize some of the British photographer’s iconic images. And you definitely know his famous subjects.
The celebrity photographer has spent 35 years as a globe-trotting portraitist to some of the biggest stars in pop culture and some of the most influential figures in global politics.
And yet, somehow, McLaren never has done a gallery show. He’s changing that this weekend, with an opening at the new Taylor Daine Goulet Gallery in Aspen (in the space formerly occupied by Gallery 1949). The exhibition opens Saturday.
“I’m just testing the waters, really,” McLaren said of the exhibition. “It’s not an ego thing for me. I’ve just never shown in galleries. I’ve never done a book. So I thought, ‘Why not?’”
He was encouraged to bring his work to Aspen by his friend, the entrepreneur Patricia Taylor, who recently opened the downtown Aspen gallery with former Gallery 1949 director Jared Goulet and curator Deborah Daine. They premiered the new space last month with an exhibition of artwork by television producer Jack Bender.
“It’s something I wanted to cross off the bucket list,” McLaren said.
McLaren’s best known photograph is probably his portrait of South African President Nelson Mandela, who McLaren captured working in the Elephant Room of the presidential palace in the early morning hours.
The rich black-and-white portrait of Mandela working through breakfast, McLaren recalled, resulted from an odd bit of bad luck. McLaren had arranged to follow the Nobel laureate during his morning routine — making a cup of tea, clipping flowers in his garden and such. But as soon as McLaren began to set up, and plugged his lighting rig into the wall, it blew a fuse and knocked out electricity in the palace.
“The alarms went off and the guards came running in with their guns,” he recalled with a laugh. “It was an interesting day.”
His solution was to shoot only on black-and-white film and only in natural light — an improvised solution that resulted in an iconic Mandela image.
Other images included in the Aspen show are McLaren’s shot of a topless Tina Turner wading in the infinity pool at her home in the south of France. And a series that he shot of the late Patrick Swayze dancing for the Italian magazine Il Mondo have been combined into a series and blown up into a 5-foot-wide print for the Aspen gallery show.
Over the years he’s also landed memorable shots of pop stars including Jon Bon Jovi and Mariah Carey and a Hollywood who’s-who list — actors like Halle Barry and Sharon Stone, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Farrell, Heath Ledger and Rachel Weisz. He once shot a nude Jean-Claude Van Damme holding two baby lions by the scruffs of their necks.
“When I shoot people I’ll hear, ‘Oh no, he’s a nightmare! Or she’s a nightmare, you’re going to have a terrible time,’” he said. “And then I get there and I don’t have a problem. So 95 percent of photography is your personality and how you handle things. The rest is technical.”
As the magazine industry struggled financially over the past decade, McLaren has pivoted away from magazine shoots and into advertising and commercial work. He remains a busy jet-setter, however — the day we spoke he’d just returned from a few days photographing Barry Manilow in Palm Springs and from photographing airplanes in Dubai for an ad campaign, with upcoming gigs for the Indy Car and Formula One racing series.
Now, as then, he’s known for working efficiently and bringing out something rare in his subjects.
“I was known for going to visit these celebrities and doing 25 or 30 set-ups in a few days,” he said. “And then I would give them to all of my magazine contacts around the world — so from one shoot they might get 30 publications.”
While the portraits are McLaren’s signature work, he can’t resist shooting landscapes when he comes to a place like Aspen, he said. An admirer of Ansel Adams and other mountainscape masters, McLaren prefers to shoot on 19th century glass plate cameras when he’s in the mountains.
“I’m lucky enough that I just go from project to project,” McLaren said. “I wake up everyday and I kick myself that I’m just a boy from London that gets to do this. It’s a profession but it’s also a hobby for me. I’ve very lucky.”
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The nonprofit VOICES led 39 bilingual Basalt Middle School students through a visual journaling project to tell their stories this spring.