Doug McGoldrick – Juggling Art & Life Challenges

Balancing a career as a professional photographer, teaching part-time, and raising a family is daunting in this day and age. Top those three time-consuming activities with an ongoing aesthetic pursuit has been Doug McGoldrick’s life challenge for the past 20 plus years. This week The COMP Magazine caught up with McGoldrick to discuss how he juggles all of these activities, what drives his continued artistic practice, what he values most in this effort, and what’s the plan for 2018.

Doug McGoldrick, student, 2017

We’ve known each other for the better part of 20 years. Can we do a little rewind and start with a little background. You were born in Princeton, New Jersey, grew up in Minnesota, studied in Wisconsin, and have lived in Chicagoland for over 15 years? I noticed that you made pictures from an early age with your dad. Are there any other early experiences that prompted you to pursue photography as a career?

Wow, 20 years that’s amazing. I’ve been in Chicago since 1995, which is longer than I‘ve lived any other place. In part, I guess I consider Chicago home, certainly home for my family.

I started doing Saturday morning art classes when I was in 3rd grade. My parents where always willing to go to the Walker or the Minneapolis Institute of Art. So, the arts have always been a part of my life. When I first moved to Chicago with a freshly printed MFA in painting I sort of fell into commercial photography as a way to feed myself. I started assisting, mainly editorial and corporate photographers, while still thinking I would someday become a full-time artist. After assisting for 6 or so years I started doing commercial work on my own, while still making art “on the side”.

Doug McGoldrick, John F., 2017

Your aesthetic practice is informed by painting, but in recent time I have noticed you hold more of an affinity with documentary photography these days. Specifically, when I look at the Politics and Corporate work I sense these images being a document rather than an aesthetic expression one might attempt in painting. Do you differentiate how you think about your commercial work versus your personal investigations? What do you find the most challenging when juggling these two approaches

For me there is a really clear line between what I do for work and what I do in my art practice. When I’m doing commercial work I’m helping to solve someone else’s problem, there’s a real objective to sell something or to get someone elected. When I’m doing my own work I’m creating and solving problems that I set out for myself. So when I’m photographing a politician or a lawyer I take a more conservative approach. Commercial photography is a team effort where you can bring your ideas to the set, but need to listen and work with the client. They’re paying your for a specific job. There is freedom in my personal work. I do as I please (even when I fail). This freedom is great and horrible simultaneously. I tend to bounce around a lot more than I should. This is the challenge. I just feel I need I have so much to get out. I really hold art sacrosanct when people talk about there (commercial) work being art it drives me nuts. To me they are so different I don’t understand how people can think this way.

Doug McGoldrick, Commuters, from Paintings and Drawings series

Aside from commercial work, what other projects are you currently working upon?

So many things…I’m doing a series of drawings and paintings of street scenes in Chicago, they are based on photos that I’ve shot while walking around the city. Mainly, these images are shot with my phone. I’m also working on a project documenting the shoreline of Lake Michigan in Chicago, I’ve also been doing a series of very very dark landscape photos where you can almost not see the image unless you hold it in the light. It’s been really hard to show this last series since on screen they look pretty much completely like black rectangles, but in person they are kind of magic. And, I’ve been doing a series of dramatically lit portraits. There are more too I have trouble settling down on one project, maybe if I could I’d be SUPER FAMOUS 🙂 !!!

Doug McGoldrick, L Train, from Paintings and Drawings series

In addition to working as a photographer, you also teach, what is the singular most important item you hope to share with your students?

There are a couple actually, first is to hustle. There’s a million people out there who want to be photographers and the ones who make it are the ones who hustle the most.

I also hope that they don’t chase trends just make work that feels real to you. I’ve seen this real odd thing happening just in the last couple years where students want really specific guidance in exactly what they should shoot. This is over-directing. This drives me crazy. At outset, the student should be following their passion, making mistakes, and, at times, maybe even making something cool.

Doug McGoldrick, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from Politics and Corporate series

What do you cherish most in your artistic practice?

It’s a great outlet for me, really meditative. I don’t really chase shows that much any more if they happen that’s great, but I’m not out pushing my work all over the place. My personal work, more than ever before is really just about doing what I want without thinking about planning a show. Sometimes looking back at the work I made right after finishing grad it was so about this is really going to show well. As I’ve grown older, my focus has shifted.

Doug McGoldrick, Dancer, from Dance series

As we begin 2018, I am wandering if there are any specific goals you hope to achieve in the new year? What other pursuits are you currently engaged with?

I’m constantly tweaking my online presence. I always feel like I need one extra interesting gig a month, so I’m really always trying to make that happen. In the creative world someone is always there to push you aside so you always need to push yourself to do something amazing. So, my goal for the year is to simply keep pushing myself.

Doug McGoldrick, Veteran’s Eyes, 2017

For additional information on the work of Doug McGoldrick, please visit:

Doug McGoldrick –

Doug McGolidrick Instagram –

Artist interview by Chester Alamo-Costello