“Liverpool’s amazing right now, but it’s had some pretty bad times and taken a lot of stick in the past. That’s why it’s great to share loads of positive images of the city. Obviously it’s nice for me, to get the likes and all that nonsense, but I like to think that my work can send out a message about the city… ” Mark McNulty is talking about the Internet, social media and the impact it’s had on his business. But he’s also talking about Liverpool.
He just can’t help it: “Liverpool and music, for example, go hand-in-hand and I love the fact that you’re never too far away from music in the city,” he says. “Especially when they come together for events like Sound City – held on the same strip of docks where rock ‘n’ roll records first came in off the ships – or when there’s music festivals held at the Pier Head in the shadows of some of the greatest buildings in the world.” McNulty is the go-to photographer for Liverpool’s showpiece events. A big gig in Sefton Park? He’ll be there. The council inviting mechanical giants to walk around the town? Mark’s down the front with his camera. A local hero returning to the Phil? Call McNulty.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. The Walton-born photographer has come a long way since a disastrous set of photos of Dexys Midnight Runners at the Royal Court in 1983. Music and taking pictures have remained the twin cogs of his professional life ever since, though, and his eye is one of the most respected in the game. Let’s find out a little bit more about his #LiverpoolLessOrdinary…
What’s the first thing you can remember photographing?
The National Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Mayo, Ireland, after getting a camera for my fourteenth birthday.
Wow. Such an ecclesiastical start put you in good hands, then! Tell us about your background…
I was born in Walton and did alright at school – but I didn’t bother with further education other than a few photography night classes. I got my first camera when I was 14, like I said, and became pretty obsessed with it straight away. I come from a working class background and the first project I remember was photographing everybody that turned up at our house on the doorstep!
I bet there’s a few crackers, there!
I think the first one was of me’ nan and aunty stood on the doorstep looking really confused!
Can you remember when someone first took a picture of you?
No, but my favourite photo of myself is of me sat on top of my grandad’s van, holding an umbrella and eating an ice cream.
Little did you know, then, that there was a Beatle in your future…
No! Photographing and meeting Paul McCartney is very much the highlight of everything I’ve ever done.
I won’t ask for a list of favourites – but tell us about some more of your most fondly-remembered jobs?
Favourite memories include a studio portrait session with Björk and my ongoing work with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – especially on away trips. I also remember spending lots of time in the nineties with a band called The Hybrids and I reckon going to Paris with Shack, and a load of other Liverpool bands around 1990, is right up there, too.
Music and Liverpool… they’re constant companions in your work aren’t they?
I got into music and photography at around the same – but it took a good few years before the two really merged. I love the fact that you’re never too far away from music in this city.
It hasn’t always been about just the bands, though, has it?
One of my most important early jobs was being commissioned to photograph Quadrant Park and its surrounding scene. Before that, I’d mostly only photograph in nightclubs when bands were playing – but that job set me on a mission documenting the rave scene from the late eighties until around 2005.
That’s a different skill to capturing moments in the open air. Do you have a favourite time and place to work?
I love that the work is varied, but early morning and later on in the day are often best, light wise, for a lot of the work that I do. As for a photographic subject… I’d go for people over places, though I do love travel photography. I’ve always said that travel, music and photography (all together) make for my favourite commissions.
I bet! Any stand-out examples?
Shooting Jamiroquai in Japan, doing loads of techno-related photography in Berlin and documenting Portishead on an American tour always rate highly when I look back on what I’ve done.
What about the future… when your email dings, who do you hope it is from?
Most of the people I’d really like to do some portraits with are long gone and probably never even got to send an email! Though if Chuck Berry needs my email address, it’s on my website…
Let’s get back to the Internet. It’s had a massive impact on the creative community and its businesses. What are your thoughts?
It’s a shop window and works amazing for me, as regards to being able to sell my archive anywhere. At the moment, I’ve only really got a portfolio site, but I’m in the process of reworking my archive for online sales and prints – for example, I’ve sold images online to the likes of the Sydney Opera House and The Smithsonian Institute! As much as most of my work is commissioned, it’s great to sell stock photos.
Not all doom and gloom, then?
Some photographers like to hold on to everything in case it’s stolen, but you don’t get to sell your work if you haven’t got a shop window. I like the social media side of things, too, and I do Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and the odd other thing if it’s about sharing photograph. Like I said, I like to send out a message about Liverpool and what goes on here…
Pic, Björk, by Mark McNulty