Interpretation is a key element of the artistic process. But, in the case of photographer David McIntyre, it was a misinterpretation that proved all the difference.
During his years at the London College of Printing, McIntyre would spend hours in the gray, utilitarian library. Standing in the aisle before the art and photography section, he pored through copies of French Vogue and books of Picasso and Guy Bordin, filling himself with their history, their pictures—with all the things he hadn’t learned at school growing up in Scotland. It was in these explorations that, McIntyre, now 48, came across the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a photographer best known for the term “the decisive moment.”
The decisive moment: the fleeting instant when, as Cartier-Bresson said, there is a “composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.”
“I assumed he was just walking around with his eyes sharp and alert, looking for that picture,” McIntyre said in his soft burr. “And when it happened, he had somehow anticipated it, got his camera up, took the picture.”
With thumb and pointer finger, McIntyre picks quarter-sized pieces from a muffin as he speaks, leaning forward over the hunter-green topped table at the Cupcake Café in Midtown Manhattan. The café, McIntyre’s choosing, could double as an abandoned set. It is filled with furniture painted different colors, made of different materials, designed in different styles. Three ceiling fans rotate slowly in the first room, milk for the coffee is kept in a refrigerator disguised as a cabinet and there is no music.
McIntyre is the co-founder and publisher of ZooZoom, an award winning online fashion magazine, and a free-lance photographer. Today, he wears a faded gray hoodie, half zipped, over a t-shirt of the same color. He has stubble on his face and receding hair of the same length. Hard lines around his mouth and brow, and deep set eyes, make him appear stoic, but his soft eyes give him away. Those eyes focus on something distant as he speaks about Cartier-Bresson.
McIntyre was 18 when he found Cartier-Bresson’s work in that library. He was fresh to England and, artistically, in his “formative years.” He wandered the streets of London with his camera, attempting to emulate Cartier-Bresson’s style of street photography, seeking to capture those ephemeral instances where both character and composition of the scene fell into perfect alignment. He trained himself to see the shots developing in front of him and to shoot quickly.
Just two years ago, in an online article, McIntyre learned that searching for decisive moments was not, in fact, the process practiced by Cartier-Bresson.
“I found out that he’d find a place where the buildings, the streets, whatever, were graphically pleasing, and he’d maybe stand there for four or five hours, photographing different people walking through his set, as it were, until he got one that he thought was perfect. So I realized he’d brought patience to it,” McIntyre said.
It was like finding out he had been adopted.
“It was a shock to me,” he said.
Those years in college had shaped him as an artist. In practicing what he thought was Cartier-Bresson’s style, McIntyre learned to seek out moments rather than wait for them.
“My misunderstanding of this process actually brought me something much more valuable, which was, the sense that having a camera is being in the moment,” McIntyre said. “Whenever I’m walking around with a camera I’m totally not worried about stuff—I’m looking for pictures.”
This technique led McIntyre to fashion photography, a field that requires the intuition of when to capture the look or gesture that defines a style. He thrived, and his work took him all over the world, from Paris to Milan to Germany. His learned lesson of foresight, however, wasn’t constrained to just taking pictures.
In 1999, shortly after he moved to New York City with his pregnant wife, Kelly, the pair launched ZooZoom. It was the first of its kind: an online fashion magazine filled with stunning images at a time when the Internet was made up of basic, visually unappealing sites.
ZooZoom was precedent setting. Since its birth, the site has won two Webbys (the Oscars of the Internet), been nominated for two others, and been recognized in Time magazine’s yearly “50 Coolest Websites” list.
Despite all its apparent success, ZooZoom may have been progressive to a fault.
“Ten years ago was just too ridiculously far ahead,” McIntyre said. “It would be much nicer now to be starting with the enthusiasm of something new at a time when the market in the world is much more ready for it.”
It’s only now, a decade later, with print journalism being shaken at its foundation, that many magazines are transitioning to the web. McIntyre knew back then he may have been early to the conversion, but he was sure a shift would eventually occur. He wanted to be ready when it did.
“It’s a trifle egocentric—but the one thing I seem to have been able to do consistently is be slightly too far ahead of things,” McIntyre said.
He is no braggart. For McIntyre, art, like music and politics, reflects a collective consciousness. There are major events in the world that affect all of our opinions, and those who look forward from the reaction to these, he believes, will eventually come upon the same ideas.
Mike Hartley, a web designer for ZooZoom since 2004, says McIntyre is an artist with some futurism mixed in. Hartley thinks McIntyre’s unique ability stems from what he allows himself to see.
“His process seems to be about keeping his mind open and receiving,” Hartley said. “He sees things most people filter out.”
Futurism isn’t necessarily lucrative, though. At times, it has been difficult for McIntyre to sell his innovative work, only to see that style become a commercial norm just years later. McIntyre views our time as one of brand identity, where you find a style that brings you success and repeat it endlessly.
“But my level of boredom’s always been way too low for that kind of persistence,” he said.
Five years ago, he began photographing models on set, then building strikingly photo-realistic digital backgrounds on his computer for those shots. Looking back on the work, he calls it intensive (a month’s work for a day’s wage), beautiful and, again, ahead of its time. But now he’s noticing a similar style in some car advertisements, and suspects it will probably be, in a couple year’s time, the trend.
At that point, McIntyre will have moved on, seeking life’s next decisive moment. Already he is dabbling in video, developing ways to bring rich, stunning fashion movies to the web. It’s something he’s been planning since ZooZoom’s inception ten years ago, but the lack of bandwidth kept him from doing.
“I’ve never stopped fiddling, thinking, making stuff, watching, learning,” McIntyre said. “You know the kid who breaks the radio down? I’m still kind of doing that, deconstructing and trying to build up.”