Shop Talk With Craig McDean
The legendary photog and adrenaline junkie drops a muscle-car survey and accompanying Byredo line.
Conventional wisdom supposes that creativity and mechanical know-how are somehow mutually exclusive. But the left-brain-vs-right-brain doctrine finds exception in Craig McDean, who, before becoming a reigning fashion photographer and Kate Moss favorite, worked as a mechanic in northern England. While his technical savvy would lead him to the carefully calibrated art of photography, McDean remains an unabashed car buff, having documented supermodels and muscle cars with equal rigor for years.
These dual passions collide at high speed in Manual, McDean’s new Rizzoli book. Expanding on the conceit of his 20-year-old book, 1999’s I Love Fast Cars, McDean’s Manual juxtaposes runway looks and burning rubber, while reprising his gear-head tendencies. Nestled among lush editorials for the likes of French Vogue and Yohji Yamamoto are a photo series of engine parts, extracted by McDean via band saw from a Chevy V8. While the gritty series, inspired by Damien Hirst’s “Mother and Child (Divided),” may starkly contrast with McDean’s fashion photography, it also reveals the nuts-and-bolts process behind the effortless sheen: “I lay it out as I shoot it,” McDean says in the book of his fashion stories. “It’s creating a visual sentence, from the start to the finish.”
Coinciding with the launch of the book is a fashion collaboration between McDean and a fellow adrenaline seeker, Byredo’s Ben Gorham. Reflecting McDean’s practice, the hybrid collection splices Byredo apparel with the book’s wide-ranging imagery. Ahead of the capsule collection’s New York launch, McDean walks us through his horse-powered drops.
Read the conversation and see inside the Craig McDean x Byredo collection below.
VMAN This book stems from your love of cars, and also recalls your days as a mechanic. Which came first? Your love of cars, or becoming a mechanic?
Craig McDean My father worked for Roll-Royce, and was always renovating old cars, so I [learned about] mechanics through him. I also raced motorcycles from a young age, but by the time I was 16 or 17, I wasn’t good enough for professional motocross. My father said, “What are you going to do?” and got me a job at his friend’s garage. But I was not really built for it [laughs]. I wasn’t destined to do mechanic work all my life, but it’s how I paid for college, eventually.
But [the book] is [really] a throwback to my days of going clubbing and photographing my friends, who’d dress up on the weekends, [in the styles of] David Bowie or Boy George, when we went clubbing. At night I would photograph my friends, and [by day] I was racing motorcycles and taking pictures at these racing events. I would always carry an Olympus half-frame camera, and just take peoples’ portraits. This was before I had any idea I would be a photographer [professionally].
So the book is a mashup of these things. It’s not forced; it’s an extension of my life.
VMAN Was there something about American cars that appealed to you, as opposed to English cars?
CM Oh god, yeah. I grew up around a Ford Cortina, this really boring, basic English car… That’s what my father drove. So the size of muscle cars, and the sheer beauty of the design [appealed to me]. And films like [Steve McQueen’s] Bullitt really romanticized them. It was that period, from 1965 to ’72, when all those great muscle cars came out: the Camaros, the Shelby Cobras… For me, growing up in Manchester, I was like, “I have to have one of these…” And [that’s what I did]. When I first moved to America, I bought a muscle car, and went car racing. And that’s what my first book, I Love Fast Cars, came from.
VMAN Do you still own muscle cars?
CM Muscle cars weren’t very well-made; the breaks were terrible. You could never stop the thing… They were god awful [to drive]. They were great to race, great at serving their purpose, but I’ve sold most of my muscle cars, yeah. Now I mostly collect Italian cars.
VMAN Like what?
My favorite car, and one I have had for a while, is my Maserati Ghibili Spyder. It’s one of the first cars I bought, and still always puts a smile on my face. It’s such a beautiful machine to drive.
VMAN Tell us about your partnership with Byredo.
CM Ben [Gorham] is a dear friend of mine, and I have been shooting the Byredo advertisements for a long time. Two years ago, Ben made a line of handbags, and based them on some of my car pictures… So for [Manual], Ben said, lets create merchandise to go along with the book.
Ben left it quite open to me; he was like, “Pick four images you’d want to go on a scarf.” We also made hats and beer coolers… it’s very American [laughs].
VMAN Does Ben like cars?
CM He does love cars actually, yes! He likes cars very much. He’s got a couple of convertible Land Rovers that are pretty out-there. I think they could [travel] to the Antarctic.
VMAN It seems like cars are just getting pushed out by various factors. People ride-sharing, et cetera… Do you think all the golden eras of cars are over?
CM I think eventually everything will be electric, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I just wish America was as forward thinking as European cities. Like if you [need to] charge a car, there should be places to charge it. I think it’s great to have electric cars and less emissions. I am down for that. But [if that doesn’t happen], maybe it will be illegal drive cars one day. They will just become relics in a museum.