Alison McCauley "Color and Shadow"

Interview by David J. Carol


Alison McCauley is a Geneva-based documentary photographer. I was initially attracted to Alison's work because of her beautiful use of colors and light. Her mastery of color, light and shadow is a great way to draw the viewer into her images. Once involved with the images, the audience then gets to the crux of her bigger purpose, to convey her ideas about society. Great work executed at the highest level. But, enough from me. Here's Alison McCauley in her own words and images. 

David Carol-   Some people just see color and shadow in a special way. I love how you use color, light and shadow or, I guess, darkness. Tell me about how you approach photographing to get this look.

Alison McCauley- I worked for a while on a series that I named “Shadow of a Doubt”.  I searched for light that made everyday scenes seem theatrical.  I liked the drama of deep saturated colour and mysterious, impenetrable darkness. I would adjust my camera for the brightest part of the scene and the shadows would then have the velvety black I was after. I’m using the past tense here because it’s an obsession that’s worn off a little.  Now, I don’t really stalk light and shadow the way I used to.

DC-  You also shoot in black and white like your photos from Syria. How do you decide what to use?

AM- I live in Geneva, a fairly gray city, and I really feel deprived of color, especially in the winter months.  I’m drawn to locations with great color, like India, Cuba or Morocco.  If the colors are beautiful, I will go for color.  If they’re not very exciting, I like black and white. 
DC- Was there a moment in your photo life that you thought 'this is it—I am a photographer'? If so, tell me about that time or moment.

AM- Although there was a definite moment when I realized that this was what I wanted and needed to do, coming to realize that I am a photographer has been a gradual process. Soon after I swapped painting for photography in 2008, I realized that I liked and wanted to put photos together to create a narrative or a project that is more interesting (to me) than the sum of its parts. I feel that I first succeeded in doing this in 2011 with my series, "On the Grid," but I wanted to try other approaches and I went through a restless, experimental period of working on lots of short-term series, before finally feeling, in the beginning of 2013, that I was making the kind of work I really wanted to be making long term. 

 DC- Surprise, you receive $25,000 euros to do any photo trip you desire. Where and to do what?

AM- With that kind of money I could do a longish-term project in more than one location.  I like to see inside people’s homes and to get an idea of how they live in and relate to their environments.  I also feel compelled to photograph locations that are going to change rapidly. I would use the money to go to a few cities I have already visited in Europe, Asia and the Middle East where people are being pushed out of their homes in the name of development or urban gentrification.  The human consequences are huge yet it’s an under-documented issue.

DC- Last question…Name your three favorite movies, books and restaurants.

AM- My favorite movies are Lost in Translation, Babel and Plein Soleil (René Clément’s adaption of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr Ripley). My favorite three books are Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy (Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street). My three favorite restaurants are The Compasses Inn (a pub in the rolling hills of Wiltshire close to my parents’ home), Le Petit Paris in Cannes (creative Mediterranean French cuisine and friendly, lively staff), and a shack on the edge of a cliff somewhere between Sana’a and Hodeidah in Yemen, where I had the best breakfast of scrambled eggs, flat bread and Mocha coffee served by a guy with a Kalashnikov slung across his shoulders. 

© Alison McCauley 2014



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



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