The Iconic Career of 1960s Fashion Photographer Alma McGoldrick

This photographer lives a life of interesting contradictions.


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McGoldrick often lined up the models, who did their own makeup, and hiked with them to remote locations.
Photo: Alma Mcgoldrick 

The idyllic image of a woman floating in a pool of flowers exudes a languid tropical dreaminess. Some parts of getting that 1970s photo were so simple, McGoldrick recalls. The hibiscus, plumeria and bougainvillea blossoms were plucked from a yard in Kāhala. The model, so lovely, as the floating flowers gently cover just enough of her to hint that she is tastefully topless. But the back story is even more interesting. Turns out the model couldn’t swim and spent much of the shoot in near panic. “She was hanging on for dear life,” says McGoldrick. The wind kept blowing the flowers across the pool, threatening to expose more of her breasts than would fly in HONOLULU Magazine at the time. Then, the problems fell away and the image came together in a shot that’s still memorable.


Originally from London, McGoldrick has spent most of her adult life in Hawai‘i, first visiting in 1957, then moving here to stay in 1964. She ran her own photo business for decades with the help of an agent in the United Kingdom, who helped match her images with clients in 40 countries across the globe. She got started in photography in England in the 1950s, at a time when there were few women shooters. She worked for the Women’s Sunday Mirror with a circulation of 1.25 million, started by the Daily Mirror group, in 1955. And the sparky feminist who lined up her own models, styled her own shoots and traveled wherever the assignments took her also spent years shooting pinup photos for newspapers.


When she first started taking pictures in Europe, her assignments included shooting the wedding of a sheik (“I thought he was going to put me in his harem”), artist Salvador Dalí, a German nudist colony (“Of course, we all had to be nude,” although she tried to disguise her twin-lens Rolleiflex),  the wedding of a 15-year-old princess in Venice (“I had to rent a gondola”) and a kissing festival in Cologne. “I got sent on all of the interesting jobs,” she recalls with a grin.


Alma Mcgoldrick
Photo: Elyse Butler Mallams 

Look to Hawai‘i’s photo legacy of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and you’ll find McGoldrick’s images a dominant force. Her first cover for our magazine ran in the 1960s when this publication was still called Paradise of the Pacific. And McGoldrick hit her stride with the magazine, shooting many covers and fashion features with a mix of fashion, scenery and stunning women.


Fashion shoots these days often involve a crew of people: photographer, assistant, art director, makeup and hair stylists, even designers. In McGoldrick’s heyday, she rarely worked with more than one person at a time. “I had no stylist. The models did their own makeup.” She arranged for and picked up clothing from the designers, scouted and hiked to the locations with just the model, then developed and delivered the images. “I just wanted to have me and a camera.”


She’s hung onto some scrapbooks and samples, but many of the images remain with her agent and the people who published them, and she lost track along the way. While some of the shots feel evocative of an earlier time, others retain their edge. Some have never been published before.


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Honolulu Magazine October 2018
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