We are sad to hear of the recent passing of Roger McDonald, a stalwart photographer who enjoyed his many visit to motorsport venues across the country, including Loton Park. Our magazine Editor, Geoff Robinson, recently interviewed Roger as part of a piece for 'Between the Scenes'. We felt it was appropriate to share this interview with everyone to show how special a gentleman he was.
Since starting motor sport photography, I’ve always looked in awe at ‘The Man’. You know when you meet up for a spot
of lunch at The Photography show at the NEC and you ask what he’s bought during the morning and he tells you, “Just a set of bellows’, that you’re in the presence of someone special and different. We’ve chewed the fat about photography (and cricket down at New Road) many times and although he’s analogue and I’m digital, we have lots in common so here’s an insight into my friend and fellow shooter, the incomparable, Roger McDonald.
GR: What are your earliest experiences of photography? Were you born with a camera in your hands?
RM: I was about eight when I went down to the cellar armed with pudding basins to attempt to process roll film; any resulting negs would have been contact printed in a frame in the garden on POP paper. (You may have to look that up!)
GR: How did you gravitate towards doing motor sport photography?
RM: Motor sport reared its head when I was taken to the first post war meeting at Shelsley Walsh by my Father and Uncle. Uncle lent me his camera, but I don't remember taking any photographs. I do recall a few of the cars competing. I still see some of them at VSCC meetings. I also remember it rained and that Uncle bought me a punnet of strawberries. When we moved to Congleton, that put us about 20 miles from Oulton Park and we never missed a meeting for years afterwards. If dad had the Saturday off, we would all go otherwise my brother and I would go on our tandem. By then I had my own camera, an Ensign Selfix 120 roll film camera. Yes, 120 negs with the cars about the size of a fly, not always in the centre either! However, motor sport began to feature strongly, club events VSCC etc.
GR: I know you’ve taught photography. Where was this?
RM: Health problems meant I was very much a part-time pupil at secondary school, but I did set up the school
photographic society. During an open day when I had been running demos in the darkroom, somebody asked if I was going to do photography afterwards. It had never occurred to me, but research proved that there were just two colleges offering photographic courses, one in London and the other in Manchester. I was offered a place on the Manchester College of Science and Technology course. My first job after collage was with The United Africa Company: a wonderful experience. We did a vast range photographic work. It was during this time that my old tutor trapped me into teaching. He asked me to call into see him after work one evening. After exchanging views on the weather etc he informed me that I was taking one of the evening classes and took me down the corridor to meet them; hells teeth, talk about being in at the deep end.
Marriage and a possible family made me think that I should perhaps move onto a job that offered more of a career structure. The result: a post at Blackpool and The Fylde College, lecturing in the Photographic Department, one of only five colleges in the country offering a high level three-year course. I felt privileged to be in contact with such enthusiastic young minds. I was made responsible for all the processing materials etc and setting up and building a new unit. Management didn’t really understand what went on in the darkroom, so I was left alone. Unfortunately, over the years, management lost sight of the fact that the most important person on the site (apart from the caretaker) was the student. They were more interested in bums on seats. Eventually when it was decided to make the course a degree I had had enough. I have strong feelings that it’s immoral to give students the promise of degree level employment when they leave.
Leaving at 55-years old was financial suicide but they did enhance my pension so that I could draw it at 60. Good job I had spent 20 years rebuilding an old farmhouse, making us almost totally self-supporting.
GR: Tell us about the famous camera that you’re so synonymous with and the car that you’ve had for a similar period of time. You’re not a chap known for chopping and changing.
RM: You are quite correct. I don't regard myself as a member of the disposable society and I’ve done my bit to reduce carbon footprint. The Linhof was bought in 1964, it was the cutting edge of technology being only the second one in the country. It cost about 12-month’s salary.
Good job I knew my bank manager well (Father) However, it’s still very much in use. What a versatile piece of kit: motor sport one day, architecture (my other subject) the next. As for the car, perhaps it was a mistake buying the Alvis first; boring just to have one car all your life.
GR: You’ve been seen with a digital camera in recent years. If the digital revolution had occurred 20 years earlier, would you have delved into it with gusto?
RM: When the family gave me the Fuji X20 about 4 years ago it presented me with a challenge. I am still working my way up the learning curve and have the greatest respect for the camera; it is very capable, and I am impressed. An advantage is that I can use it alongside the Linhof without changing viewpoint.
I feel that the digital image is rather like listening to music from a disc via a solid-state amplifier. From that, you will gather that my music listening is provided by my Quod valve amplifiers dating from the 1950s. No comment.
GR: Thanks for giving us an insight into an astonishing photographic life and I look forward to seeing you on a hill quite soon, Roger.
RM: Many thanks for asking me. I feel honoured.