The Guardian Smart ShotAnticipation the IndeterminateGuardian Smart Shot on 27.01.2024

Smart Shot

The Saturday Guardian

Published on 27th January 2024

Interview with Guardian journalist Grace Holliday


Grace Holliday: Hi Gerry. What’s the name of your photo, when was it made and on which camera?


Gerry McCulloch: Hi Grace. The title of the photo is “Anticipating the Indeterminate”. It’s from 10th November, 2023 and it was made with an iPhone 15.


GH: Please tell me about the location: where is it and why were you there? 


GMc: The location is Tate Modern Turbine Hall. I was there for Yayoi Kusama exhibition that I’d missed in Tokyo. 


GH: Who is the person in the photo? Do we know anything about them? 


GMc: An important aspect of the picture is to not know anything about the unidentifiable figure. I have no idea who the person is.


GH: Did you have a specific photo you wanted to capture ahead of time, or did it come about spontaneously? 


GMc: The picture came about spontaneously. 


John Szarkowski said “The world itself is an artist of incomparable inventiveness.” In this vein, I ocassionally find myself transported by a rapturous sense of awe, elicited by the unspoken stories in the fabric of our everyday surroundings.


I was purchasing my exhibition ticket when I happened to turn around and catch a glimpse of enchantment on the other side of the Turbine Hall. The luminous colours reminded me of an Odilon Redon painting.


In a context of thousands of visitors from around the globe visiting Tate Modern to enjoy world-class art, it tickled me that this humble fiction was playing out silently in an un-noticed corner at the centre of the cultural milieu.


GH: What do you think is the most important aspect of your photo?


GMc: In a word: Simplicity. 


The determining factor is the relationship between the figure and the sterile environment. I’m curious about how relationships between pictorial elements can imply a story secret. 


In my creative practice, I have a mantra: “Identify - Clarify - Simplify - Amplify


As a visual storytelling coach, this mantra is like a jewel at the centre of the mandala of principles I instil in other filmmakers, photographers and artists. (I can hear my clients chuckling.)


In the picture, simplicity of form excludes extraneous elements from the composition and identifies the mystery of the moment as the core interaction between figure and ground.


The opaque quality of the window and the blue and yellow hues clarify the contrasting story elements and amplify the tension between pictorial ingredients.


GH: How does the photo make you feel?


GMc: The photo makes me feel like I’m the character in the picture doing my utmost to navigate the unfathomable world I’ve found myself parachuted into. The picture activates my gratitude about sharing life’s predicaments with others, tinged by a poignant melancholy about also feeling separate. As Duane Michals said: “I make photographs to find out who I am.”


GH: How do you hope your photo makes others feel?


GMc: I’d like viewers to feel the unknown figure’s emotions and inhabit the character’s thoughts - but through the lens of their own vital life-experience.


Having said that, I’m mostly interested in the divergence of interpretations of my pictures - especially from viewers who know little about my intentions.


Fusing qualities that are normally associated with paintings is important for me because withholding photographic precision stimulates participation in the wonder of life’s mystery.


My website ( is a haven of similar experiments that explore overlaps in the Ven diagram between cinema, photography and painting. 


A shrewd adage I once received from a sage at Varanasi railway station translates as: “When events are perceived by the senses in harmony, innate luminosity dawns.”


GH: Is using your phone different to using a digital camera? Why?


GMc: There is less practical control with a phone although the gap is narrowing. Happily, ostensibly limiting constraints like this can equally be transposed as an artistic incitement. 


For example, I didn’t have access to the balance of aperture, shutter speed and light sensitivity that my phone was invisibly selecting. I had to make a trial image and check the metadata to find out.


The aperture was wide open and the shutter speed was relatively slow, so I needed to hold my phone still in order to obtain a stable, intentional image in low light. In comparison with a camera, holding a phone steady is ergonomically awkward.


GH: Why did you use your phone and not a digital camera or film camera?


GMc: My phone was the only camera I was carrying at the time.


GH: Were any effects or image processing applied to your image?


No effects were added other than correcting exposure and colour balance. 


I learned photography using black and white film. I used to make images manually on a borrowed Pentax K1000 camera and process the film myself in a community darkroom. Nowadays, I employ an analogous workflow with phone images because making a resonant photo is still a two-stage process. 


Optimising my photos is never about applying filters or over-cooking my recipe to make a picture look ‘more interesting’. Rather it’s about remaining true to the sincerity of the feeling I experienced at the point of acquisition. 


As Charlie Parker said: “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” Without transmitting the honesty of my emotional integrity, how could others be moved by my picture ?



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