Scotland: Taking the High Road with David Eustace

Posted by Pamela Bailey on Feb 9, 2015 8:55:11 PM

Human beings are visual creatures. We respond to images and the stories they tell, and many of us are photography enthusiasts keen to capture those important moments and seminal experiences that serve to define our lives. The unsurpassed joy surrounding the birth of a child, the exhilaration of graduation day, the emotional release at the safe return of a family member serving in the armed forces in one of our contemporary world’s many conflict zones.

And then there are those who are blessed with a rare and remarkable gift for seeing the world in a special way, in all its myriad textures and complexities, who succeed in capturing such nuanced images that they resonate deeply, reminding us of our shared humanity in such a visceral and powerful manner that we cannot help but respond.

Scottish photographer David Eustace is one such artist. A master of his craft whose exquisite images immediately grab our attention with each, in its way, conveying the warmth, compassion and intelligence of the man himself. David holds no truck with the ubiquitous practice of retouching images in post production – with him, what he sees is what you get in all its breathtaking glory. Whether he is photographing the rugged Scottish landscape he so loves, or immortalizing one of the many international celebrities who have sat for him including Sophia Loren, Sir Paul McCartney, Dame Judi Dench, John Hurt and Ewan McGregor. So striking are the portraits that one can understand why First Nations people initially feared having their likeness captured in case the image should spirit away their very essence.

In February 2015 a major international exhibition of David Eustace’s work, with accompanying book, is being staged at The Scottish Gallery: the oldest privately-owned fine art gallery in Scotland. David Eustace is the only photographer ever to have gained representation with them.

Challenging, however, to arrive at the optimum blend of images from a 25-year career which has already been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts from his alma mater, Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Work that has found a home in the collections of The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and the UK’s National Portrait Gallery in London. David has himself been the subject of a number of documentaries including one by the BBC profiling his exhibition at London’s Cork Street Gallery. His portraits have featured in The Wall Street Journal, Vogue and The Sunday Times to name but a few.

Vanity Fair’s Photography Director Susan White provided the foreword for the book accompanying the exhibition, both entitled “I write to tell you of a boy born only yesterday……:

“I first met David more than 10 years ago and he struck me then as a man on a quest. He seemed a seeker, of sorts, out to answer his life’s questions by turning his lens on others. … I remember thinking that I was meeting a man and a photographer not quite content with the making of beautiful imagery, a photographer who might be looking for something beyond the world of commercial photography….. He brings our gaze deep into the horizon, reminding us how difficult it is to see the end from the beginning ..”

With such a wealth of creative talent, one might reasonably expect a somewhat aloof personality. Nothing could be further from the truth. In person, David Eustace is warm and engaging, a natural raconteur with a seemingly endless stream of wonderfully entertaining anecdotes, Scottish to his core. Perhaps it stems from his former careers in the Royal Navy and the prison service that he should appear so down-to-earth, with a sharp intellect, warmth and affability that let him immediately connect with his subjects. Skills that he clearly honed working for seven years with Scotland’s most notorious criminals.

Though he has worked with some of the world’s most successful power companies and retail operations, David maintains he is not a commercial photographer. Rather his work is art-based yet has a commercial value. He occupies the space inbetween, caring passionately about his work, which is consistenly authentic and able to communicate on a deeply human level.

Commenting on his forthcoming exhibition, David said: “I am truly honored to have Scotland’s oldest private gallery representing me and staging this exhibition. In common with every aspect of my work, the show’s title - I write to tell you of a boy born only yesterday - is extremely personal. It’s the opening line of the letter sent to my parents from the adoption agency in November 1961 advising them of my arrival in this world.”

David’s much-loved adoptive parents died when the artist was in his twenties and – a decade later – he was reunited with his birth mother. Though he doesn’t put much store by coincidences, David learned that his mother – a young single girl from the Scottish Highlands – held him for the last time, tightly wrapped in a shawl as the snow fell gently in Scotland’s beautiful capital city, hoping that he would find a good home with loving parents. In a remarkable recent twist of fate, on first visiting the new family home in Edinburgh, she exclaimed with surprise and heartfelt emotion that the view from the window was precisely the same as on that snowy day 51 years previously.

David has travelled extensively, internationally, and these globetrotting trips have resulted in remarkable bodies of work including an Anthropologie-commissioned project “In search of Eustace (Texas)” to document America, passing through Death Valley and Monument Valley. His 16 year-old daughter Rachael accompanied David on the dream road trip, which proved immensely popular with young girls keen to embark on their own adventure with their fathers. NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw then approached David before replicating the journey for a documentary titled “American Character: Along Highway 50”.

A separate exhibition – Highland Heart – commissioned by the Scottish Government and Napier University for New York’s Tartan Week 2013 was opened by Scotland’s then First Minister, Alex Salmond. The show ran to universal acclaim at the Hudson Gallery in midtown Manhattan. A selection of those images are reproduced here. Alex Salmond remains a powerful political influence and was the powerhouse behind the recent referendum in which 45 per cent of Scottish voters opted for independence.

David continues: “Trust and creative control are essential and allow me to produce my best work. Both were true of Highland Heart. I’m particularly drawn to Scotland’s Western Highlands and the islands of the inner and outer Hebrides. There is something so special about those places. The light is incredible, and it often genuinely feels as if you’re standing at the edge of the world.”

David’s love of his native land also extends to a love of another Scottish specialty: fine Scotch whisky, and he has become a collector since his natural mother gave him the hipflask owned by his maternal grandfather who worked for 40 years in the scotch whisky industry. Within three weeks of receiving the gift, he was commissioned by the Scottish Malt Whisky Association which has since asked him to become one of their international Ambassadors, regularly sending him bottles to taste before spreading the word. The Wall Street Journal cemented matters by commissioning a portrait of master whisky blender Rachel Barrie.

David photographed celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s first ever cookery book. The like-minded friends agree that scotch is far more than simply a drink. Instead it should be savored, like fine wine, since anything that takes 40 years to mature deserves our respect. Jamie Oliver has a myriad of wonderful suggestions for incorporating scotch into delicious recipes – for example, succulent Highland mussels with fresh smoked haddock in a creamy sauce subtly imbued with a smooth scotch such as Talisker from the isle of Skye. His update
of Cranachan, a traditional Scottish dessert, features layers of summer berries, oatmeal and cream with a healthy dash
of scotch. And for those who prefer their tipple to maintain a little distance from their sweet indulgence, try pairing a
25 year-old Speyside single malt to perfectly complement sticky toffee pudding.

Like David himself, Scots over the centuries have travelled to the four corners of the earth, and many of us go on discover a connection with Scotland when tracing our family tree. Hopefully, in the not so distant future, you too will have the chance to experience this magnificent land with its extraordinary landscapes. Discover for yourself the warmth of its people, the richness of its culture and be introduced to the delights of uisge beatha (the water of life) as the Scots call their amber nectar. This small land has a remarkable ability to reach into the soul to make such adventures simply unforgettable.

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