Ages of Substrate

The Photography of Gerald McLean

Gerald McLean, one of a number of photographers who share their images with RIBApix, was uniquely privileged to have worked for the renowned architectural photographer John Maltby (1910-1980). In this feature we explore how working for Maltby influenced his own future career as a photographer to the extent of even recreating Maltby’s logo for his own use and with aspirations that it might become an internationally recognised symbol for photographers.

After a succession of aptitude and ability tests and nearing the end of his secondary school education Gerald McLean was offered an apprenticeship in electronic engineering. This may well have been the smart choice, given the advances in computing and all things electronic. Yet having spent the summer exploring silver halide in the darkroom created for him in the garage by his father and elder brothers, he made a lifelong commitment to devote himself to creating a world of his own composition.

Gerald recalls that, “Once I realised that photography occupied the majority of my thoughts and efforts, having first been introduced to the art form at school aged 14, I found my way to the offices of John Maltby Ltd. who offered an apprenticeship in photography. Thus, my journey began.

“The first place it led was to a poorly illuminated and cold storage area where I spent the first three months of my apprenticeship going through all of John’s glass plate negatives. Checking their condition, rewashing, renumbering, re-sleeving and removing those that were broken or beyond repair.  Who would have known that I was saving them for the RIBA Collections?

“As it turns out, looking at thousands of black & white negatives is an extremely good way to hone your sense of composition and lighting. I suspect this was John’s intention all along.”

Although John Maltby Ltd. was a commercial studio covering a wide variety of subjects, Gerald’s main focus centred on architecture. An article for ‘Kodak’ magazine in 1991 summed up his work, Gerald's choice of architecture as his specialized subject was determined by his apprenticeship to architectural photographer John Maltby and his desire to portray that which he perceives to be constructive in our lives - both literal and abstract. Architecture; and the elements from which it is composed provide Gerald with the ideal subject with which to transform those elements into salient pictorial form. In experimenting with the new shapes that presented themselves, he has realized artistic confidence controlling the fundamentals of architectural form; line, mass, space and proportion. International assignments have helped Gerald to photograph buildings from unusual standpoints; to stress those aspects, which communicate the driving aesthetic behind each building to the viewer, without losing the integrity of the architect’s design.”

As photography celebrates its 180th year and with no more glass plate negatives for him to refer to, it is now the revolutionary progress of the camera and its electronics leading to rapid changes in substrates and methodology that ensures Gerald remains a student of the art. Indeed, this is also akin to the advances that he has witnessed in the field of architecture and building practices in particular recalling that, “When I finally advanced to being trusted alone on location and got a driving licence, I was given a building progress assignment. At that time buildings in England were still primarily constructed of bricks. Now bricks are mainly used for decorative purposes, if at all.”

As a personal project, Gerald has created a record of these contemporary building methods and practices during the regeneration of Greenwich Peninsular by Knight Dragon and in time we hope that many of these images and videos will be available through RIBApix. He has also published a book on his time working in Oman, ‘taSauwur: Sultanate of Oman’ and has another entitled ‘Grace – in this place’ of photomontages based on the daydreams of his mother, due for publication in the autumn of 2019.

To see more of Gerald McLean’s work on RIBApix click here


24 items
RIBA93505Johnny Rockets American-style diner, Fulham Road, London

RIBA93508Oriel brasserie, 50-52 Sloane Square, London

RIBA93517Capital House, Edgware Road, London

RIBA93522Capital House, Edgware Road, London: the foyer

RIBA93841Leadenhall Building, City of London, seen from the Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe,

RIBA93847Leadenhall Building, City of London: detail of a steel support

RIBA93867Leadenhall Building, City of London: inside a lift shaft looking down, at the rear of the building

RIBA93892Leadenhall Building, City of London: looking towards St Paul's Cathedral at night, from the upper floors

RIBA93914City of London skyline, with 20 Fenchurch Street in the foreground, the Leadenhall Building, Heron Tower (just behind) and the Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe in the centre

RIBA93923Leadenhall Building, City of London: the escalators leading to street level

RIBA93997Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Bahla

RIBA105099Villa, Madinat Al Sultan Qaboos, Muscat: the entrance elevation

RIBA105239Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe, City of London: the security gates in the entrance hall

RIBA105246Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe, City of London: the main entrance doors

RIBA105286Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe, City of London: the glazed roof from below

RIBA105291Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe, City of London: detail of the glazed roof

RIBA105314Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe, City of London

RIBA105849West End Quay, Paddington Basin, London

RIBA105881Rolling Bridge, Paddington Basin, London: the bridge rolled up

RIBA105901Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London: details of old radiators

RIBA111377Tower Bridge, London, at dusk, seen from the river

RIBA11138320 Fenchurch Street, City of London, seen at night

RIBA111444Statue of Sir Thomas Guy, London, with the Shard in the background

RIBA112378The Shard, London, with Canary Wharf in the distance