Talking With Martyn Thompson
Interior photographer Martyn Thompson’s new book is about the places where people work, and the result is an amazing document titled Working Space. We’re loving it!
The book is full of overcrowded art studios, opulent home offices, and the types of intensely personal, functional, and sometimes chaotic environments that emerge from day-in-day-out creativity.
We’re excited to host a book signing event and celebration with Martyn next week at our Chelsea store in New York City. And we got the chance to talk with him about his unique approach to photography, his tips, and about some of his favorite images from Working Space. Read on!
When did you start taking photographs, and what drew you to interiors?
In the mid 80’s I started photographing the clothes that I was designing and making back then. Slowly I became more interested in pursuing photography as my career.
In 1994 I met Ilse Crawford – founder and editor of British ELLE Decoration. Ilse was forging a new approach to capturing living space and I became a part of that movement. Ilse’s focus was more about mood than literal information and my photography was a good fit.
I like to focus on the tactile quality of a place – the little details – and to capture its spirit.
What is it about photographing people’s workspaces that first drew you to this project?
As an artist I’m always curious to see how other people make work and I think a good interior story can be a wonderful portrait of the passions and process of someone’s craft. My photography is a good fit for the workspaces, which are often more interesting in their details than in their design – especially when dealing with artists and creative folk.
How do you approach photographing an interior? What’s your process like?
I am very much led by the light. I like to work with natural light and will turn off any additional artificial light source unless it seems integral to the design of the space.
Initially i wander round with my camera – I’m looking for vignettes that appeal to me and trying to get a sense of whats important in the environment. If it’s possible I will chat with the subject about what they feel is key.
I dont like an image to be too distorted so i rarely use a wide angle lens. I am more interested in feeling close to the material – an intimacy. Ultimately I like to come away with a mixture of images that combine the broader space and the smaller details.
This picture [above] is taken in the office of my friend, Louise Olsen, one of the founders of Dinosaur Designs. It is one of my favorites in Working Space. I love the juxtaposition of the subject matter, which is all curvy, against the linear composition. Its also a picture about process. Here is a collection of both pieces that Louise has designed, and images and artifacts that have inspired her.
On meeting Phyllis and Izzy, I was immediately curious to photograph their place [above] in Provincetown. It’s a combination of home, painting studio, and shopfront for their jewelry business. The place was a chaos of collections and memorabilia. Perfect fodder for photos.
The almost ethereal quality results from the backlight – one of my 2 preferred light set-ups. I try to make the dominant light source in my images a window light, either in the background or oriented on one side of the subject
This [above] is Golconde. Located in Pondicherry, India, this little-known modernist gem, designed by Antonin Raymond and George Nakashima in 1935, forms part of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
This building serves as a place of rest and peace. Although very simple and functional, a warm humanity emanates from the rich textural contrasts — the combination of which are illustrated here.
If you’re in NYC, come meet Martyn Thompson, see a special installation of his most recent work, and pick up a signed copy of Working Space at west elm Chelsea on Wednesday, October 16th. Click here for more details.
Images: Martyn Thompson