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Eric Thorburn Photographer of the royals, celebrities and Mackintosh enthusiast

WHEN he was a young apprentice in a Glasgow photographic studio, Eric Thorburn was presented with a rose by the artist Marc Chagall.

On a visit to the city the painter spotted Eric working and told him he recognised something special in the young man.

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Born and brought up in Govan where men were not given to impulsively presenting flowers to one another, Eric always remembered parting company with the rose as soon as Chagall left the studio.

It was only later that he appreciated the significance of the artist's perception. It would be fair to say that Eric, 64, who died last week after a short illness, fulfilled his expectations.

Certainly there can be few photographers who have been commissioned to take a portrait of the Queen with the crown jewels of Scotland and only one who has grabbed her handbag in the process.

Large and intrusive Eric decided it simply had no place in his picture.

Recalling the moment when professionalism overcame protocol, he remembered the request to photograph the Queen with the honours of Scotland at Holyrood with understandable pride and not a little relief when it was over.

The Queen was in the middle of her "Annus Horribilis" while the honours had not left Edinburgh Castle for decades.

Even the Queen was forbidden to touch them and they had to be brought to the palace by their keeper.

Eric was invited to photograph the royal family on a number of occasions. One of his favourite memories was of being offered a generous measure of gin with the Queen Mother in her sitting room at Clarence House, corgies at his feet and Her Majesty singing the Sky Boat Song to his wife Lis.

On another occasion the phone rang and a voice asked if he did wedding photography.

"Not any more, " he answered promptly, a weary veteran of countless such events in the past.

"Oh I think you might be persuaded to do this one, " replied the voice. Sure enough the wedding reception of the offspring of the Duke and Duchess of Kent at Holyrood was too hard to resist.

Three years after he began his apprenticeship at the Stevens Orr studio, Eric set up his own business in Sauchiehall Street. He is still remembered with humour and affection for his long association with organisations such as the Scottish Tourist Board and Scottish Power. He also created picture libraries for United Distillers and the Scotch Whisky Association and Allied.

Among his personal favourite clients were Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera, where he could indulge his love of music while producing some of his finest portraits.

Particularly memorable for him was his session with Leonard Bernstein that resulted in a craggy, pensive likeness of the man with a buttercup tucked behind his ear.

Nureyev, Pavarotti, Tom Conti, Billy Connolly and Sean Connery are all among dozens of celebrities who have enjoyed Eric's unique treatment.

Scotland's leading artists also posed for him at the invitation of the RGI when he followed Lord Litchfield with a special one-man show at the McLellan Gallery, choosing to photograph all the members of the institute including Mary Armour, David Donaldson and Sandy Gaudi. Many became good friends.

"He could have name dropped for Scotland, " says Joe Stirling, a longstanding friend and a former editor of the Scottish Field, "though he was just as happy photographing the ordinary and making it look special, or climbing a mountain for a good view."

With Joe and other close friends Eric formed the "LAF Club" short for Lord Astor's Fishing. Always true to its name with liberal amounts of amusement between members, it was celebrated with an annual fishing trip to Jura where Eric enjoyed the hill walking as much as catching his Lordship's trout.

It was the Scottish Field that first commissioned Eric to tackle interior photography, and he developed a skill that led to his work appearing in many leading homes and interiors magazines. It also brought a working partnership with his wife Lis even closer when she joined him as stylist. After that a job with this particular team was always more like a pleasurable day out, recalls one writer.

Eric's love for the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh gave him some of his happiest and most successful collaborations. It began even before he was asked by Reo Stakis to come and photograph the Ingram Street tearooms when it was about to be totally refurbished and the Mackintosh interior lost for good. Recognising its importance, Eric even rescued items that had been thrown into a skip and with typical generosity of spirit later returned them to the School of Art.

For the rest of his life he continued to compile one of the most important libraries of Mackintosh pictures in the world, never tiring of photographing Mackintosh's work.

He contributed to a number of books on the architect including the catalogue of the world exhibition and Synthesis in Form by James Steel. He also became a close friend of Anne Ellis, a leading authority on Mackintosh and curator of the Hill House for 10 years, where he loved to work.

More recently Eric took on yet another new challenge when he joined publisher Lynne Kennedy in setting up a new glossy lifestyle magazine called Uptown. Covering Scotland and the north, Eric became chief photographer, scanner and picture editor.

Embracing new technology with his usual enthusiasm, he taught himself to enjoy new computer programmes and he was delighted when the magazine won its first major award at the end of last year.

A keen sculptor when he had time to relax at home, Eric also became a Christian in 1998, a decision that brought joy to his later life.

Also to Eric's great delight his son Paul decided to follow him into a career in photography, winning a first-class degree at the Glasgow School of Art and two national prizes for his pictures. He now works in New York.

Another great pleasure and a challenge arrived last year when his daughter Beth married Dunfermline footballer, Barry Nicholson.

Unfortunately, Eric had never listed football among his many outdoor enthusiasms.

Dutifully he agreed to go to some of Barry's more important fixtures, though usually he volunteered to take his beloved granddaughter, Maya, for a walk in her pram during play.

Alas the attraction of the game, like the offside rule, remained stubbornly beyond him and when asked to explain, as in so many things, he would reply "you had better ask Lis about that".

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