The gift of teaching is clearly something Paul has had for a while.

#Flashback Fridays: Paul McDonald

Hatch reporter Tom Livingstone profiles the industry professionals teaching at Macleay College, for the series – #FlashbackFridays

Macleay College has done amazing things, preparing future journalists with innovative, practical and most importantly, fun teaching methods. The staff are exceptional, giving students the best education and sculpting them into elite professional communicators.

What shapes these amazing people and what journey have they been on to get to where they are today?

This week #FlashbackFridays brings you the story of professional photographer Paul McDonald. Paul teaches news photography and photo journalism at Macleay’s Sydney campus. Paul has worked overseas and is connected with many greats of the photography world. With a career spanning decades, his love of storytelling through a visual medium is clear in the work carried out by his photographic hub, Contact Sheet. Paul’s unique way of getting students to think outside the box and expand themselves creatively is clear in the content they produce.

(Above: Even during his time in China, Paul enjoyed teaching locals about photography. Image: Supplied)

1) What job did you first start out with in your industry? 

After finishing college back home in Liverpool, my first job was in finance and marketing for Barclays Bank, as there were no jobs at that time in the creative world. I worked in the training department and as a marketing assistant. It was a great decision as they provided excellent training in business strategy and management. When I moved to Australia in 2000 I moved into photography full time. My first paid commercial job was photographing couches and taps! It sounds easy but it was extremely hard. That’s when I realised I didn’t want to be a commercial photographer. 

Paul launching a photo festival in China, which he helped curate. Image: Supplied

 2) What did you love about those early days? 

My innocence 🙂 I would do and try anything in the industry even if I failed. Food photography, product photography. I was trying everything to see what I liked and didn’t like (or was obviously bad at!). I never tried wedding photography, even though I was offered good money. 

 3) What did you hate about them? 

Hate is a strong word and, reflecting upon my early career, there is nothing I hated. At the time I often felt frustrated, as I wanted to achieve everything, quickly and now! And I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I must have been hard work. But being more experienced and mature I now realise the people around me at that early stage of my career were just trying to teach me how to develop a photographic series or spend dedicated time achieving something substantial rather than just rushing it through. 

 4) What is a career highlight you have (or are there a few)? 

For me it is hard to define a “career highlight”. Is it a career highlight from my perspective or from that of my audience or my peers? When I was in the role of Associate Director at the Australian Centre for Photography it was in many ways a dream job and I made connections, which opened so many doors for me. Working with China News for four years was a fantastic experience. The opportunity to work in China and travel to areas that tourists do not see, and having the opportunity in China to focus on photography for an extended period of time and not worry about day-to-day life, was fantastic. 

More recently, I worked with a group of asylum seekers and refugees from Christmas Island. I wrote and delivered a photography program in which I spent eight weeks with them, working towards an exhibition. The exhibition was a series of photographs of their stories. At the opening, one of the participants walked over to me and whispered, “Thank you for giving me a voice.”  For me the community projects such as this, in which I have been able to share my skills to benefit others, have been the most rewarding and are my highlights. 

 5) What do you enjoy about teaching at Macleay? 

Learning from the students and being challenged in a constructive and positive way by them. I have learnt that you never know everything. No matter your skill or qualification level you should always be open to new learnings. I love being surprised or moved by the quality of stories produced by the students at Macleay. Students talk and produce work on subjects I wouldn’t have dreamed of discussing when I was young. 

 6) What would you be doing if you weren’t a superstar in your field?

Paul discussing photography on live TV to an audience of about 20 million in China. Image: Supplied

I don’t see myself or identify as a “superstar” and I never would. My second equal love to photography is music. I am a huge fan of music and have been known to walk out of a venue if the DJ cannot mix or is lazy. So I would be working in the music industry, in some form. 

 7) Something quirky, most people don’t know about you. 

Hmmmmm, I was the VIP door person for the largest music club in Europe when I was making ends meet as a student. 

I earned a black belt second dan in Ju-Jitsu and was a weapons instructor before coming to Australia. I used to compete in kick boxing competitions and was pretty good 😉 

I couldn’t swim until three years ago and learnt how to ocean swim last September. I have completed a series of ocean races, the most recent of which was 2.8km in shark-infested Coffs Harbour. 

 8) A quote or belief that personally motivates you each day. 

“Nothing by halves” and “suck it up and get it done”, as we say in Liverpool (my home town in the UK) in a strong “scouse” accent ! 

Translated from scouse it means if you are going to do something, do it properly and don’t give only 50 per cent when challenges hit you. If you experience a setback, move on, don’t let them get you down. There is always someone worse off than you, so life ain’t that bad.