John Byrne

John Byrne, Scottish artist/playwright, 2011. In the permanent collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

David Eustace’s love of people is apparent in his portraiture. His work has been described as powerful in its simplicity, yet complex at the same time. To look at one of his portraits is to see the very essence of an individual. Eustace’s subjects include celebrities and other prominent people in the world of art, movies and music, including Paul McCartney, Sophia Loren, James Earl Jones and Sir Peter Blake. However, he’s equally at home photographing everyday folk in Europe and characters across the U.S. And his work isn’t confined to portraiture — his direct, honest style is apparent in his fashion, documentary and landscape photography.

Some of Eustace’s intriguing photo assignments have involved extensive travel. He enjoys taking road trips in the U.S, particularly in the American Southwest. “I really focus on projects and attack them as best I can,” he explains. “I’ve done some of them in the space of two weeks, which is crazy.” He says he’s probably traveled more in the U.S. than many people who were born here. “I just love meeting new people and going to new places.”

He was raised in a working-class area of Glasgow, Scotland, in what he describes as a “wonderful upbringing.” After leaving school at age 16, he worked at a variety of jobs — from a fruit seller at a street market to a caller at Bingo games. As a young man, he served time in the Royal Navy. After leaving the Navy at 21, he became a prison officer at Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison.

Eustace’s introduction to photography came about relatively late in life. At age 27, he borrowed a camera from a friend before going on vacation. “I wanted to use the camera as something to record memories with, and fell in love with taking photographs,” he says. “I just started photographing things I found interesting, but not necessarily the holiday snaps people normally take.” Instead, he became fascinated with subjects like old trees and flaking wall paint. He taught himself the basics of photography, including exposure, f-stops and shutter speeds. Although printing labs were “everywhere” in London and New York, they were in short supply in Scotland. “So, I taught myself,” he says. “For me, it was all about getting the best understanding of the medium.”

Then he joined a local amateur camera club, which — by his admission — lasted “about two weeks.” The club held a photo competition, and Eustace entered several transparencies, not expecting to win. To his surprise, he was awarded second prize. “The judge came up to me afterwards and asked how long I had been doing photography. I told him that it was nothing more than a hobby, because I was a prison officer.” The judge strongly suggested that he take his photography further.

Paul Gray, graphic designer. Photographed at the Glasgow Art Club, 2013. From “Friends & Artists.” © DAVID EUSTACE

Paul Gray, graphic designer. Photographed at the Glasgow Art Club, 2013. From “Friends & Artists.”

This marked a turning point for Eustace, and he decided to return to full-time education. He applied to Edinburgh Napier University and was accepted on the strength of his photographic portfolio. “I was very, very lucky,” he says. “Within six months of picking up a camera, I resigned from my job and was back in formal education.” A month after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Eustace was shooting for Condé Nast’s GQ and British Vogue. “I think that being a mature student was in my favor,” he remarks. “I had the discipline and commitment to do things that the younger guys didn’t have.”

So how did he approach impressive clients like Condé Nast right after graduating from school? “They published magazines I liked, so I just phoned them up back in the day,” he replies. “It was that straightforward then.” Eustace was also tenacious when making initial contacts in the publishing industry, driving an old, beat-up car from Glasgow to London (about the same distance as Los Angeles to San Francisco). “I would do this once a week to try to see people. Sometimes I would even sleep in the car. It was all about the commitment I had to make, and I was prepared to do that.”

More of this article can be read in the Summer 2014 issue.