Ross Fraser McLean

is a Scottish photographer.

Born and bred in Dundee, Ross first picked up a camera with intent aged 18 years old, three months later his father died, since then he has used photography as a way of feeling out his perceptions of our shared human mortality.

In reflection to the internal journey of this reckoning, the many cultures of the world out with his familiar Scotland helped keep McLean inspired by his camera as a tool for connection.

He then quit photography and became a gas man.

14 hours a day, 5 days a week, 8am-10pm… 
Some time later he had saved enough to embark upon his first solo trip.

At age 21 his first travels took him overland across Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, China and Japan ending up in Tokyo, four months and fifty rolls of 35mm film later.

Since returning from that first trip it has been a discipline to take on an extended photography adventure each year, that is funded by working as a photographer & tutor of photography back home in Scotland.

Capturing lonely street photography on Valentine's Day in LA, returning to China to document the urban density of the mega cites, or capturing a homage to his father in the streets & faces of Cuba… These are some of his personal projects that have been captured on 35mm & 120 film.

Exhibiting these projects has always been an important part of McLean's creative practice.  Customarily presenting these projects as wall based installations with a hierarchy of scale, and as self-published artist books, the relationship between each image satisfying the same value as the images themselves.

Photography has one of the most immediate connections with reality of all the arts, but McLean is drawn to the subjective nature of working with photography alongside this direct connection; 

"Being able to share your most sacred secrets without even uttering a word."

It could be said that when viewing McLean's work;
"the more questions answered, the more questions unfold."

This element of hunting and meaning making has always been at the core of McLean's practice.

"I see my photographs as questions rather than answers."

Whilst in India, sporting some slightly awkward facial hair that was perhaps somewhat colonial in appearance, McLean was held captive by an outcast community of snake charmers for 22 days.  The Sapera Caste.  He lost over 12kg (2 stone) of bodyweight during this time, but eventually escaped with the 20 rolls of film that documented this intense time.

Having to maintain an empowered and fearless impression during his stay, it was only through processing these rolls of film, McLean was able to reflect and process the repressed trauma contiguous to the experience.

With an undercurrent study of the representation of truth and authorship in photography.  McLean presented a body of work that is more ambiguous in the traditional power exchange between 'exotic' subject matter & 'privileged' white photographer.  

More recently travelling throughout Mexico, capturing rituals of death and systems for living, through religion and the iconography of death within Mexican culture.  Egalitarian in his photographic approach through portraiture, landscape and still life.

Across two trips and a total of eight months worth of travelling, over 400+ rolls of film were shot. As an artist McLean expanded into sculpture and site specific installation art.

McLean created a shrine dedicated to his father on "Dia de los Muertos" in an old abandoned hacienda that had been repurposed as a gallery, on the outskirts of the city of Oaxaca in Mexico.  Exhibiting alongside British designer Gareth Pugh, light artist Olivia Steele and a handful of local Mexican artists. All brought together via the curation of Gem & Bolt.

Adorned with flowers, fruit and an abundance of natural produce, many of the elements of this shrine were sourced from the local market.  Among them masks, 'magic' candles & 'magic' soaps which inspired McLean to continue collecting objects on in addition to all the ephemeral moments captured on film.

Upon returning to Scotland with over 200kg of excess baggage filled with the many objects and oddities collected from all across Mexico, this inspired many unique Sculptures of his own.  Working with molten metal, to create cast iron and bronze effigies of the alternative saints of Mexico's unique mixture of faith. Carving wooden masks, forming vessels out of clay and creating unique textiles to shape further shrines dedicated to many imagined characters representing the various aspects of Mexican culture Ross encountered, explored and even embodied by means of survival throughout this trip.

"Many of the photographs captured in my projects could be seen as documentation of a performance from a first person perspective."

The following is a quote from an interview with Claudia Crobatia for A Course in Dying

I love life and I love being alive, but I have tested my mortality a number of times. Like many an ignorant young man I was under the impression of being invincible. Turns out; not true. This did however get me through quite a few extreme situations. From getting a little too entangled with the Sapera caste of snake charmers in India to photographing the aftermath of the assassination of Rafic Hariri (the former Prime Minister of Lebanon), I have long felt inspired to get close to the edge.

I think this visually shows in my work as well. When lighting a subject in the studio, the closer you bring in the lights, the higher the contrast becomes. I like contrast but I’ve always paid careful attention to retaining the details in the highlights whilst also sharing the information in the shadows. I want to feel the extremities of contrast without over simplifying the image itself. This is largely what appealed to me so much about Mexico, a country of contrasts. The brighter the light, the darker the shadows.

“I am drawn to the Mexican idea of death as an equaliser. An unequivocal acquaintance between the rich and poor, the powerful and powerless, the criminal and law-abiding.” 

You can read the rest of the interview here…


CEIBA exploring rituals of death in Mexico.

Charming Snakes I was literally kidnapped by snake charmers in India.

Patria O Muerte a secret homage to my dead dad in the streets of Cuba.

Karoshi translates as "death from overwork" in Japan.

Hollywood Valentine lonesome street photography shot on Valentine's day in LA.

Concrete Future using a camera to inscribe urban density across China.

Yalla means "Come On!" or "Hurry Up!" in Arabic, slow travel with a fast thinker.

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