This Business of Art: Interview with David Eustace

Successful photographer David Eustace discusses his career ahead of his solo show at The Scottish Gallery

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 06 Feb 2015
  • David Eustace - John Byrne in Yellow Tweed Suit

David Eustace is a sought-after photographer across the USA and UK these days. Having completed huge projects with brands like Samsung, his work often circulates through international advertising campaigns. Yet his first attraction to photography took place in a less professional context: on holiday with his wife, in his twenties. “I had a small camera with me and was taking photos the whole trip and I just really enjoyed it,” Eustace explains. Having served in the navy, and worked as a prison guard, he was 28 when he decided it was time for a change and applied to Edinburgh Napier University.

Studying in the late 80s, Eustace’s career crossed the change in commercial photography from analogue to digital. Analogue was important to his early education when he put in the hours to learn everything there was to know about the processes and materials. And these hours of graft paid off, as he not only attracted prestigious commercial commissions but was also frequently offered that holy grail of creative work – complete creative control. It’s for this reason that Eustace does not draw a definite line between his paid work and self-funded projects, as he deliberately works with companies that allow for his distinctive voice. And it’s for this reason that the work going on show in the Scottish Gallery this month is drawn from across the entire breadth of Eustace’s creative career.

While the photographer may celebrate his complete creative control, he is still often at the receiving end of concerned marketing departments, who are not accustomed to relinquishing control over ad campaigns to an artist. Yet, says Eustace, “The best marketers take risk. They don’t rely on strategy and buzzwords, and go for honesty and something authentic.” As an example, he describes the work he completed for a major US clothing brand. “I took a road trip with my daughter across America, and when we got back the marketers were worried that we didn’t wear the company’s clothes. But the head of the company was completely behind the work, and it was a success. What people responded to was the spirit of the father and daughter journey.”

At this point in his career, Eustace has built a strong reputation for himself. This is particularly the case in America, where he enjoys a steady rate of commissions, and the privileged position of being able to be selective when it comes to choosing with whom he works. Does he still face challenges in his practice?

One concern he describes is becoming literate with the latest photography editing software, although he’s happy to work with a team of experts – who often reassure him not to worry about Photoshop, as “that’s what they’re there for.” At the same time, Eustace acknowledges that while he may work with others within projects, "Working within a team is important and necessary, but ultimately one person has to take responsibility for the decisions being made." He compares this with filmmaking – “You can’t have a committee of a hundred directing a film.”

With successful campaigns aplenty, and a body of work worthy of the first solo show of a photographer in 175 years of the Scottish Gallery's history, Eustace still isn't ready to let the comfort of routine set in. He's recently taken on the biggest mortgage of his life for a "guest house that's currently gushing rainwater through the ceiling." His ambition is to set up a space for young artists and photographers to showcase their work. Setting out his reasons why he'd take on a huge and unremunerative project, he puts it simply: "This is what keeps us alive."

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The Scottish Gallery, 4-28 Feb