When Wendy McDougall was in high school she thought to herself, ‘If Annie Leibovitz can do it so can I’. And so she did.

McDougall is now an award-winning Australian music photographer and over her 40-year career has snapped rock icons like Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Barnes, Crowded House, INXS, Divinyls, and Richard Clapton

Having just staged her exhibition ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll But I Like It’ in Sydney, McDougall is readying the showing in Melbourne at Sunstudios tomorrow (May 9).

In the Q&A below, McDougall chats about her unforgettable moments, her advice for upstarts, and the surprising reaction she received from the Sydney exhibition.

Did you set out to become a music photographer, how did your career come about?

Yes. I always loved music and I tried all art forms until I found photography – this happened in 5th Form /Year 11 at school. One day I realised I could put the two together.

I wanted to make album covers and the creative image bands needed. Annie Leibovitz was working for Rolling Stone magazine and she inspired me to do it. I figured if she could do it so could I.

Tell us about this retrospective exhibition, ‘It’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it…’

Last year I won Best Photographer at the inaugural AWMA [Australian Women in Music Awards]. Canon sponsored the event and their main man Jason McLean talked to me after the event was over [he actually handed me the prize on stage so we have a lovely memory of where we met!]

He said that Canon would love to do something with me and this exhibition is the ‘something’. With 40 years of working in music the exhibition ended up being a kind retrospective of my music photography. It’s been a fabulous ride so far.

WendyMcDougall with AWMA award

You had the showing in Sydney recently, what stuck out to you the most about how it was all received?

I had no expectations of how the show would be perceived by the public, but what has ended up happening is that my images have triggered memories. People come along, spend quite a while browsing the work, and have even been moved to tears.

They are recalling their own experiences, almost forgotten, and cant help sharing their stories and reliving the memories of great times they had.

You need to remember that the most times this happens its with the period before digital kicked in. Audiences didn’t take their own phones and cameras. They were there for the music period.

People like myself, and the few others taking the photos, were recording for them, so for the first time in ages they were reliving some fabulous times.

It has been amazing. There have been some lovely comments about the work too so that is of course goo to hear.

wendy mcdougall photo of freddie mercury
Credit: Wendy McDougall. Purchase the print here.

What was it about rock ‘n’ roll music that lead to this life’s work of yours?

It makes me feel great. Music makes me feel great, though I guess that particular genre, and other similar music – I love blues etc – just spoke to me.

I could be happy in my own world listening. I enjoyed playing it too though I wasn’t very good when I was young. I’m just starting to have a go again after all these years and it’s fabulous. I have a new social life playing music. Of course we also know how good it is for the brain so it’s win-win.

Tell us about one unforgettable anecdote that makes you smile when you think back.

I always smile at the memory that I got to spend two days on set of the music video shoot for Crowded House when they made their clip for ‘Don’t Dream Its Over’.

It’s the song that took them to the top, also for the video maker who started his international career with this video, and I met some fabulous people in music and the film world. A pivotal time for many of us.

I also smile when I recall the day I was the official photographer for INXS at Concert For Life. Their tour manager at the time looked at my pass and said, “You can go more places here them me!!” And I did. It felt amazing to be on stage when the band played and to see the day through their eyes.

Winning the AWMA Award was nerve racking but truly amazing and really I haven’t stopped smiling since the day Canon offered me this chance to show my work.

Michael Hutchence 1996 onstage
Michael Hutchence 1996. Credit: Wendy McDougall.

What advice would you give to those looking to follow in your footsteps?

Follow your instincts. Find your ‘theme’ that you love [mine was music] and then get involved to specialise. It seems that we need to have multiple skills in this era but specialising is always a great thing. Clients who are serious about needing a photographer will be attracted to those who understand their industry.

Enjoy what you do, and don’t under sell yourself.

EXHIBITION DETAILS

SUNSTUDIOS and Canon Experience Store complex South Melbourne
Dates: 9–24 May 2019
Hours: Mon–Sat 9:00am–5:30pm
Location: 95 Buckhurst Street South Melbourne
Admission is FREE.