Clicked: Taking pictures rescued David’s life, now he’s giving something back

David Eustace. Picture Neil Hanna
David Eustace. Picture Neil Hanna
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DAVID Eustace is a force of nature. Which is maybe why he’s the top judge in a government competition of children’s photos focusing on the power of Scotland’s seas. That and the fact that he’s a world-renowned photographer.

He’s taken pictures of everyone from Sophia Loren to Scarlett Johansson, Sir Paul McCartney to Ronnie Wood for Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair.

Picture of Yosemite National Park shot by David Eustace

Picture of Yosemite National Park shot by David Eustace

But while the Edinburgh-born, Glasgow-raised, Napier-taught artist can keep still behind the camera, out in front of it he’s a physical whirlwind, constantly gesticulating, desperate to release the thousand-and-one ideas in his head.

Perhaps it was because he grew up in one of Scotland’s poorest housing estates, perhaps it’s because school was hard as his dyslexia wasn’t understood, perhaps it’s the zeal of the mature student’s thirst for education, but he exudes an infectious enthusiasm and desire for knowledge of the world around him.

In fact, the Elephant House cafe on George IV Bridge where we meet, and which may well have proved a place of inspiration for JK Rowling in her early Harry Potter days, feels too small to contain Eustace.

But then so was Barlinnie. The 51-year-old worked for a time as a prison officer in the notorious jail – previous jobs had included the Royal Navy reserves, a bingo hall and selling fruit at the Barras – before a holiday with his wife, Deirdre, gave him his first opportunity to take a few snaps and set him on his stellar career path which now sees him jet between the UK and the US every few months.

“I was 28 when I first came to Edinburgh and Napier to study photography,” he says. “I would travel through every day to Marchmont for three years, and it was a whole other world to me. I remember standing in class surrounded by all these young kids and I didn’t know how I should ask to go to the toilet. Did I put my hand up? The last time I’d been in a classroom I’d been 15.

“But I had a wonderful time there. The thing with Napier was that it kept asking questions of me and pushed me. It didn’t just fill your head, it asked you to explore the holes in your head. It was almost like being a child and asking ‘why, why?’ all the time.

“Robin Gillanders was one of the best teachers I ever had and he really got me to question everything I was doing. When you come from the place where I grew up there are always ways to make excuses for not doing things. Robin made me realise that my experiences before Napier were worth something, that I had life lessons that couldn’t be taught in a classroom.

“Which is why I am so supportive of this competition. It will give some kids, who are not photographers and who might never be, a chance to try something new, just to give it a go.

“It’s all about education, kids and Scotland. In truth, it’s hard not to get involved with something like that. I’m not getting any reward other than the inspiration it might give to a kid who thought they would never do something like this.”

He takes a breath.

Eustace – recently the face of a major Panasonic advertising campaign for its Lumix camera – obviously feels he’s been lucky that education and photography have in some way rescued him from a different life, and that he now wants to give something back.

The competition which he’s judging – and which the News is backing – is part of the Scottish Government’s Saltire Prize, which challenges the renewable energy sector to be the first to capture wave power and convert it into clean, green energy. The Power of the Sea photography contest is a way to get children involved and highlight the awesome force of Scotland’s natural resource.

“Scotland has a brilliant natural environment and, given that water is everywhere, I can’t wait to see what they have taken photos of. It could be Portobello beach or a waterfall or the waves along the coastline – I want to be surprised. And I want to help in any way I can to open these kids’ minds.”

He adds: “I know that for me coming back to Scotland is coming home, and it’s because of the natural environment. One of the portfolios of work I’m most happy with is Highland Heart – there’s just something about the place. Any chance I get, I get back up there.”

He also claims to have a foot in both camps when it comes to the Edinburgh-Glasgow divide. “Well, I was born here, which not many people know, but when I was adopted I was taken to Glasgow. I obviously sound Glaswegian, but I like to wrong-foot people sometimes by saying I’m from Edinburgh,” he grins. “And I still feel very connected because of Napier. I had a great time there, was taught by a gem of a man who really pushed me, but I think I had a good work ethic and discipline already, so I was there at 8.55 every morning.”

Eustace was obviously driven. In his final year he’d already signed a contract with Conde Nast for GQ and had been commissioned for work in the US, which saw him miss some of his finals. He’s been travelling ever since. “But my roots are here,” he says. “My wife and daughter, Rachel, live in Glasgow, though she’s travelling through every day to study fashion design at 
Edinburgh College of Art.

“In fact, I’m looking to buy a place in Edinburgh. I love it, it’s a real capital.”

Yet Eustace is always on the go, travelling the world on magazine or gallery commissions – last year he celebrated his 50th birthday down a Chilean mine – and admits that Deirdre is “incredibly understanding”.

Most of the year, though, he’s in the US. “I have an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen in New York and it will have felt the full force of nature thanks to Sandy, so I’m waiting to hear if I’ve got an indoor swimming pool now.

“Photography has given me a life I’d never have dreamed I’d have. I’ve just been very lucky, that I have been able to see the world through my camera and people have wanted to see it that way.”

He says he doesn’t have a preference between taking photos of people or landscapes, they both inspire him. And he believes that it’s only photography which can capture the sea properly.

“It’s always moving, always changing. Photographs capture the moment so someone can see it the way you did.”

He is obviously thrilled to have been asked to judge the Power of the Sea competition. “My only stipulation was that the kids retain their copyright. I want them to put a value on what they produce, to have an ownership of it.

“Photography has never been more accessible. We never had a camera at all when I was growing up. I was 27 before I first got the chance to take photos, the word photographer wasn’t in my vocabulary, so it’s brilliant that children are able to give it a go and can produce something beautiful.”

• THE Power of the Sea competition has seen school pupils across the country busily snapping away - and there’s still time to enter.

The closing date has been extended until November 9 in the contest which is part of the Scottish Government’s Saltire Prize.

Entrants have been asked to creatively capture rushing water from waterfalls and rivers in their local area.

Regional entries will be judged by a panel led by Roger Jonathan, group picture editor of The Scotsman Publications Ltd, with the winners progressing to the national round decided by David Eustace.

Mr Eustace said: “Competitions such as Power of the Sea inspire the next generation to get creative. Photography continues to evolve and it has never been more accessible.

“Scotland’s fantastic natural environment is both a canvas and a stimulant that has inspired many beautiful photographs, and I look forward to judging the entries.”

Regional winners are due to be announced on November 17 and the national winners on November 29.

Entries should be made online at www.scotland.org/power-of-the-sea/ or by post by sending your entries to Power of the Sea, Stripe Communications, 116 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, EH3 5EE.

Each entry must include 1 jpeg image of at least 300 dpi and a completed entry form. Postal entries must include a disc with the image and form.