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Photographer turns silk scarves into art

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After 30 years of wearing a camera, Ian Macdonald-Smith is trying on a new industry.Fashion. The photographer has taken his characteristic abstract images and translated them to silk, under the logo MacAwe — a play on words that labels each of his silk scarves and pocket squares.

“Macaw are parrots, that dress in loud colours and I'm in awe of nature,” said Mr Macdonald-Smith.

Each series bears the Mac stamp — MacRo, rocks shot in macro, MacS, a squiggle series, MacHine, male-focused designs and MacWa, his water series.

It was the water reflections that prompted the idea ten years ago when he was showing his work to a couple who likened the images to fabric.

He has travelled as far as Holland, Italy and France to capture the works — one final design was taken outside the Teatro Nuevo in Milan in 2011 while attending the annual fabric show.

“Everywhere I go, I'm always looking for water reflections. It's a series that I love and never tire of.

“There's a movie theatre there with a pond outside I was taking reflections of what was on the billboard. I got these crazy colours, beautiful patterns.”

He returned in 2013 with a better camera.

“The camera was three times the resolution, the lens was twice as good and it was specifically to do images for scarves,” he recalled.

“I drove 300km specifically at night-time to go photograph and get the hell out.

“I turn up and they're just monochromatic, black and white cosmetics ads.”

Rather than driving off disappointed, Mr Macdonald-Smith took the photographs.

He is glad he did. The neutral-toned scarf is one of his favourites. You can just make out a woman's face.

“She's a beautiful woman. I called this Damsel in Distress because of what the water does to the image. It's stretched and warped her.”

He said the stories give the scarves a context, adding to their value.

A colourful, stained glass-like print is the close up of a Bermuda kite, made by architect and friend the late Julia Van Beelen. His Squiggles series, a multiple exposure of sparkles on the water, was shot on kodachrome 25 film in 1989 and 1990. A piece of imperial jasper in close-up brings “incredible tonal ranges and orb-like patterns”.

“I call them, cheekily, watercolours, oils and squiggles because the fine-art world puts painting above photography on a regular basis. These are things only a camera can do.

“Only a camera can capture this because water is constantly moving and you need a fast shutter speed to freeze motion.”

He said the reaction to his samples was “unanimously positive”.

“Globally, 80 to 90 per cent of all sales are made to women, so these are appealing to women who don't necessarily want a photograph, but something that you can translate on to silk,” he said.

He hopes to move into apparel next, printing on wraps, bikinis, board shorts, silk shirts and dresses.

“This is just the start. If I have enough people who say ‘yes, I want this', I can go into production. I can essentially do custom couture.

“It's been a long process finding the right manufacturer and getting to the bottom of a very complex industry,” added Macdonald-Smith, who has the scarves produced in Como alongside the likes of Ferragamo and Prada.

“This silk is Italian woven — it's a satin crepe silk. They're fluid. I wanted them to feel like they melt in your hand. While these are not cheap, the quality is as good as you can get”

He said he could not have done it without the help of friends. Stuart Joblin from Makin Waves directed him to the fabric show; Lusso owner Julia Currelly helped him navigate the fashion industry.

“For me, it's the surprise of seeing something that you think is wonderful turn out. It used to be on film — this great anticipation of seeing what you got. Now, it's digital; you have instant gratification.”

Now he gets that anticipation from the silk.

“Certainly in the transformation in the whole industry, there have been two revolutions; one has been the transference from film to digital and then, certainly from the point-and-shoot market and for any professional, it's been this transition into smartphones.

“The quality from these latest Samsungs and iPhones is broadcast quality.

“Riding the wave of that transition has been phenomenal. As an environmentalist, I've loved seeing that we've gone from being a destructive industry with chemicals into digital, which is far less environmentally damaging.

“There's been a printing revolution alongside this as well. On different kinds of paper, on canvas and now on materials, aluminium, wood.”

Mr Macdonald-Smith celebrated his anniversary as a photographer on his birthday last month.

“It was my 23rd birthday. I was in Boston and I decided, I love photography and I wanted to travel.

“My dream was freedom, so I said what have I got to lose? You're young enough that if it didn't work you could do something else.

“If I knew then what I know now, maybe I would have done it, but you can't have regrets. Here I am 30 years later, after an incredible journey, and still loving doing it.”

MacAwe scarves, pocket squares and foulards cost $265, $45 and $95 and are available at Luxury Gifts Bermuda or directly from For more information, visit:

Ian Macdonald-Smith

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Published May 05, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 05, 2017 at 9:15 am)

Photographer turns silk scarves into art

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