Guild member and livestock photographer Douglas Low has embarked on a well-earned retirement, bringing to a close a career spanning 55 years since the day he started as an assistant photographer on The Scottish Farmer in 1956.
“I’d like to thank all my clients and the friends I’ve made over the years for the great memories and good times,” says Dougie. “However, the most important people have been the stockmen and shepherds who mostly suffered in silence while I got my pictures.”
Dougie recalls that when started, the job entailed travelling the country by bus and train to local Saturday shows, Young Farmers activities, major shows and sales. He learnt his trade at a time when the art of livestock portraiture was in hands of some ‘greats’.
“I was one of the last youngsters privileged to learn the skills and tricks involved and the patience required from the likes of Sandy Cowper, Andrew Reid, Brown of Lanark, Hammonds of Hereford and, of course, my boss at The SF,” he says. “They were the masters of the moment but always willing to give constructive advice.
Six years on, having travelled the length and breadth of the UK, Dougie set out to develop his photographic education and experience by joining the Press & Journal as a daily news cameraman in the Inverness branch office.
“This was not only a culture shock, it involved a complete change of pace, having to do in a day what used to be done in a week,” he recalls. “At that time, I was the only staff photographer and I worked with four reporters covering an area from Inverness to the west and isles, to Caithness in the north and Nairn to the east.”
“The Blackface is one of the most trying breeds to photograph,” says Dougie, “largely because breeders want them taken unheld and natural. This was a challenge on its own but I think I was beaten only once in more than 50 years. Many hours were spent, but with a shepherd or two and a couple of good sheepdogs the end result was a picture like this of a ram lamb that sold for £40,000.”
During the following nine years spent in the Highland capital and surrounding area, Dougie photographed many modern historical events as things changed, including oil rig construction, the pulp mill at Fort William, a smelter plant and whisky plant at Invergordon, Brenda Sherratt swimming Loch Ness in record time and many Royal visits. Other highlights include flying in Shackleton aircraft from RAF Kinloss and covering helicopter rescues with RNAS Lossiemouth, which added interest to the usual daily news events, court cases, personalities, and so on.
Covering football every Saturday afternoon, come rain or shine, became routine but Dougie also took to the pitch, playing for the Highland Press Club team.
“Nine years down the line I was invited back to The SF as chief photographer, a post I held for two years until I felt it was time to launch my own business,” Dougie continues. “D Low Photography “Bairns to Bulls to Weddings” was born with the enthusiastic backing of my wife and business partner Moira, who I lost to the ‘Big C’ in 1995.
“I’ve seen so many changes in the industry over this period, including the introduction of foreign breeds like Charolais, Limousin and Holstein cattle, Texel and Charollais sheep, all now established breeds in the UK,” he adds. “I remember photographing the first imported Texel ewes and the first crop of lambs in Scotland, as well as the first Highland Show at Ingliston and, of course, more recently the devastation of Foot and Mouth disease outbreaks.”
“Always expect the unusual; this shot presented its self on arrival at a Welsh Texel sale recently. The owner was giving his tups a morning walk and blow in the fresh air. As I jumped from the car, camera at the ready, the nosey Texels climbed on to the wall, as if to say: Good morning, buyers.”
“The Smithfield Show was my favourite, even though it was very trying at times,” he recalls. “The Saturday prior to the show opening was spent photographing over 200 cattle live in the bowels of Earls Court before they went for slaughter for judging in the carcase competitions.
“But since many had never seen a halter before, it was mighty scary at times and often resembled the famous Spanish bull run in Pamplona! The banter between the Scots, Welsh and English stewards was great,” he adds, “and all the photographs needed were taken somehow before I set off to develop the film and produce more than 400 prints in an impromptu darkroom in my hotel bedroom, ready to be displayed alongside the carcases for the judging on Sunday.”
Photography has come a long way in his time, of course; from glass plates to roll film to 35mm and now digital – technology that Dougie regards as causing the death of livestock portraiture as an art.
“In my day, it had to be correct at the moment, no matter how long it took,” he explains. “Now, all you need is a little box of tricks in your computer to enhance every shot; that’s progress and now, everyone is a photographer, or so they think!”
Having travelled thousands of miles, met many interesting people and made many friends, Dougie is now settling into retirement with his partner Marjorie at their home near Thirsk in Yorkshire.
“To my younger contemporaries, I’d like to say a big ‘thanks’ for your friendship, help and many laughs and scrapes,” he says. “Keep up the Art; just cut down on the Photoshop!”
“Perfection by name and perfection to take – this is the World record Texel ram Deveronvale Perfection and he sold for 220,000 guineas at Lanark in 2009. He was very laid back but, as you can see, he was smart, sharp and up on his legs with a great top line and ears pricked giving his head just the right angle. If I was being critical of my own work, I’d say his front nearside leg could have been about an inch further back; then he really would have been perfection with a capital ‘P’.”