In conversation with Donal Murphy Photography

An interview with Donal Murphy, a multiple award winning Architectural and Interiors Photographer of Donal Murphy Photography.

Miesian Plaza – STW Architects (Donal Murphy Photography)

As part of our design process Mortar & More will always take shots of each project before, during but most importantly, after. Now, while our trusted cameras and phones are great for the before and during, the key to our process is engaging with a professional to provide the shots that capture the essence of the completed design which is great for both M&M and our clients.

Donal Murphy consistently captures the aesthetic of both our designs and many others in the architectural and design industry both at home and abroad.

Donal’s work has featured in many international design journals, Design Milk, Design Boom and Dezeen to name but a few. He has also won numerous international awards over the years.

We recently had a chat with Donal, to find out more on what inspired him to get into the industry, his motivation and what inspires him along with what was his most crazy experience on a shoot!

So enough from us, read on to learn more about Donal’s story.

Kenilworth (Donal Murphy Photography)

Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to become an architectural photographer?

I am a farmer’s son from Cork, based in exile in Dublin, married with 3 kids. I studied architecture briefly and very badly at UCD a long time ago, before taking up photography. However, I never felt connected to shooting people, and so eventually and inevitably drifted towards architectural photography.

What is a typical day like on the day of a shoot?

It usually starts the day before! Planning is really important, and every project has its own needs. For exterior projects, I try to think through what shots I want in advance, and work out the logistics needed to achieve them – everything from weather to best time of day for the main views, access protocols to tide times, car/van parking etc. Interior shoots are quite different -you are less weather dependent, but very dependent on the stage of completion, furniture deliveries etc. In either case and despite your best planning, you have to be prepared to walk away and return another day if circumstances go against you… This can be frustrating, but leads to better images!

If the shoot goes ahead, I like to get into a rhythm and work through the shots or spaces methodically. I get super conscious of things happening in my environment, from incoming cloud fronts, to ongoing snagging, to moving companies arriving etc.

Confucius Centre, UCD – Robin Lee Architects (Donal Murphy Photography)

What is your main priority when you walk on to a shoot? Is there a process you follow?

I like to get an overview of the project as soon as possible, a simple walkthrough, either with the designer or on my own. This helps me to start planning where to start, sequencing, timing etc. For non-residential projects, I always try to get GA plans beforehand, so I know what to expect in terms of scale and layout, building orientation etc. This helps enormously and speeds up the process no end. I kind of like to shoot on my own, as the amount of fussing I do with chairs and desks can be embarrassing!

Udemy (Donal Murphy Photography)

What has been your biggest challenge to date on a shoot?

It can be hard to get useful shots when you have to complete the work of a small team of cleaners first! Speaking of cleaners, I can be a bit obsessive about desk and chair arranging on commercial fit-out shoots (task chair facing the desk with 2 wheels to rear; all level etc.) I once shot a large 250 person open plan office from a mezzanine balcony, which had to be accessed through a few corridors. After spending over an hour adjusting all the chairs to my satisfaction, I made my way up to the mezzanine to shoot, only to discover that a team of cleaners had come through and pulled everything apart in the meantime. Sigh…

Aside from ‘work’ shoots, what is your favourite thing to photograph and why? Are you always on the lookout for good things to shoot when on your travels?

I actually enjoy my ‘work’ shoots! I get to take my time and spend my energy and effort creating and photographing ‘ideal’ environments, with the right set of gear. That’s something most photographers would enjoy!

That said, I really like shooting some general street photography when in a new city, and always try to squeeze in a “down day” when on assignment abroad. I don’t try to shoot ‘the sights’ necessarily, but instead, shoot little vignettes that make an impression on me and give me a feel for the place… They wouldn’t necessarily make sense to anyone else!

South Circular (Donal Murphy Photography)

What impact has social media had on photography? Do you feel it is an advantage or disadvantage to your profession?

I think people are a lot more visually aware than they used to be, both as consumers and creators of images. On the downside, everyone is a photographer now, but they don’t know what goes into creating an image! On the plus side, I think people recognise photographic styles more readily and realise all photographers are not the same. My style is very naturalistic and almost austere, which some people have an affinity for. They know the style of image they will get if they hire me.

From left to right: Architectural Review  – Andreas Gursky – Picturing a French solar ‘farm’, Les Mées (2016); Howard Greenberg Gallery – Eugene Atget – Marchand de Vin, 15 rue Boyer, 1910Avenue des Gobelins, 1901;  Widewalls – Bernd and Hilla Becher – Wassertürme (Water Towers)

What are your main sources of inspiration? Fellow photographers, creatives or projects?

I quite strongly believe that today’s commercial images document the present for posterity: photographs of buildings, homes and workplaces, will be how future generations understand the present, just as that is how we understand the past. Consequently, I have always been inspired by similarly motivated photographers, from the Parsian Eugene Atget who photographed disappearing urban views to sell to gentille painters in the 1900’s, to the documentary photographer Walker Evans’ work for the Farm Security Administration in the American dustbowl in the 1930’s, to the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher who spent decades photographing disappearing industrial architecture until the 1980’s, and Andreas Gursky who they influenced. I’ve always liked the elegant mid-century style of Julius Schulman too.

What have been the biggest lessons learnt in the establishing of your practice and what would be the biggest nugget of advice you would pass on to aspiring photographers and students?

Develop a style that is true to you – no-one else can copy that. And don’t give away your work! Enjoying your work and making a living are not mutually exclusive!

Beaux Lane House (Donal Murphy Photography)

What would be your dream shoot? Or is there a building or interior that you would love to get the opportunity to shoot for your own collection?

I wouldn’t mind being let loose on a Zaha Hadid project..! I’m not fussy – anyone would do!

And on a lighter note, what can you not leave home without and why?

Photographically: the list is way too long! My bag has wheels!!
So otherwise, my phone and earbuds – I live on Spotify and Audible…!

AirBnB Offices, Seattle – Airbnb Environments_Bora Architects (Donal Murphy Photography)