I’ll be the first to admit that, by and large, the world depicted within interior books and magazines is a fantasy. Sure, the spaces filling their pages are beautiful and awe-inspiring, but they are also cleaned up—styled, decorated, and well-lit; a layer of high-gloss sheen covering the dust and detritus of everyday life. Where are the stacks of mail? The dirty dishes? The unmade beds? Are there really fresh-cut tulips on that coffee table every day? Like the models in fashion magazines, their pores and wrinkles zapped away through the magic of Photoshop, these spaces are given their own sort of face-lift. Of course, this is to be expected: when you have guests over (especially if they are photographers from a major magazine), you are sure as hell going to straighten up. Because of this, though, when we enter a person’s home through the lens of a magazine, we only get to see a portion of what makes their house a home.
This is one of the reasons why the Australian photographer Martyn Thompson’s new book, Working Space, is so refreshing. As its title suggests, the volume is an ode to the creative workspace and the very idea of work—from its traditional incarnation at the office or studio to more spiritual takes on the concept like meditation. The stunningly photographed images depicted within Working Space are interiors, but that is where the similarities to other shelter books end. Unlike the manicured, consciously styled settings that are typical of such books, these temples of creative energy are displayed in their purest, most uninhibited states; Thompson’s camera acts almost as a fly on the wall, documenting but not editing. Bookshelves overflow with cameras and creative accouterment, slop sinks spill over with paintbrushes and unwashed bowls. These spaces are made for use and they are very much in use at the time of documentation.
The objects we surround ourselves with—from the clothing we wear to the things we put in our homes—oftentimes act as external representations of who we are—communicative devices that project how we want to be seen by the world. These workspaces take this concept to the next level with Thompson’s photographic tableaus acting like portraits, telling us who the inhabitants are and how they work.
We hear so much about leisure these days—from finding time to shut down and unwind to building a nest away from the world—that we can oftentimes forget that work can be one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when it is guided by passion. Loving the work that you do (and the final product of that work) goes hand-in-hand with loving life. From the photographs inside of Working Space, it seems that these people (from graphic designers to choreographers to barbers) love both.
Martyn Thompson took some time from his own work life to answer some questions about his book, his work, and his own working space. Continue after the jump for more photos and the full interview! —Max
GIVEAWAY: In addition to featuring photos from this gorgeous new book, we have the pleasure of being able to give away 2 copies! Tell us what your workspace says about you in the comments section for a chance to win! We’ll pick our favorites!
Above image: The office of Thierry Dreyfus, a Paris-based lighting designer.
Above image: Work surfaces within painter Brad Greenwood’s studio.
What do you think you have learned about the concept of work while creating this project?
That it is very important to do something that feeds and satisfies your soul. I tried to look at “work” in quite broad terms—that taking time to meditate or go horse riding is work—work that clears the mind is as important as work that fills the mind.
For the Working Space project, you said that you wanted to document the spaces of people who are passionate about their work. Have you made any observations about what separates these particular spaces from, say, those of people who are not passionate about work? Do you think that there is anything that can be learned from these spaces, things that can be applied to the notion of work in general? What are the lessons (if any) that one can learn from the pages of Working Space?
In Working Space, I’m not always looking at “work” as in how you earn your living—it’s work as in what turns you on—what you love doing. That’s where the passion comes in. I hope the book could encourage people to express themselves. We live in a world where we endlessly consume and don’t take enough time to create. Creation can be satisfying on so many levels—soothing and exciting. One of my personal mottos is “just…do it.”
A person’s work space can speak volumes about not just the work that they do, but their personality and their general level of personal organization. What is your workspace and work routine like? What do you think your work space says about you?
I have a live/work loft space. I’ve been there 10 years I am a funny combination of tidy and messy. My desk is generally impenetrable and when I’m working on a series of pictures I need to be surrounded by all the props and accoutrement that are involved. I don’t like to put things out of sight. But then I also need a tidy space (ie, the kitchen) to give me some sense of order. My work space is practical and functional—and it’s experimental and transitional—regularly changing depending on the current project. There’s a lot of cardboard and a lot of tape, tons of fabric, and paints and dyes and tools, etc… I think it says that I like craft!
I would imagine that finding your best “work space,” both physically and mentally can be a little bit like finding one’s own self—a long journey that can change and evolve throughout one’s life. How has your own concept of work and your workspace changed since the time you began your career until now? Are there any habits or objects that have stayed with you?
When I first started taking pictures in Sydney, I was lucky to have a studio space—it was somewhere I could play and experiment. Today, I have that same ability in the loft, but for nearly 20 intervening years I didn’t. Now, I’d never want to be without that—it’s more important than a comfortable home for me. Making things is what I spend most of my time doing! One thing that has changed is my ability to delegate. I’m a control freak, but I got to a delegate-or-die stage of life. It’s good to recognize your own limitations—as well as learning to trust. Now I thrive much more on the input of others .
Aside from the technological essentials for your own job, are there any items within your workspace that you consider personally essential? What items can you not work without?
For me, making an image is about building an environment—whether I am working for myself or a corporation I can’t do without some props! My pictures are about color and texture, creating a tactile space. I have one small table and a number of bits and pieces that I use repeatedly in my photos. Currently my studio is filled with fake flowers—all painted black!
Above image: The Montmartre-based home/studio of ceramicist Annabel Adie.
Above image: One of the few “traditional” offices within the book, this is the Sydney headquarters of Margaret Nolan’s graphic design company, The Collective.
Above image: Another image from the office of lighting designer Thierry Dreyfus. Here, you can see the sketches that he draws directly onto his walls.
Above image: the studio of fashion design team, Edward Meadham and Ben Kirchhoff, otherwise known as Meadham Kirchhoff.
Above image: A photograph of the legendary photographer Cindy Sherman’s work space. Originally published in W magazine.
Above image: The factory of E. R. Butler, a custom hardware manufacturer located in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Above image: The self portrait of Martyn Thompson, the photographer and author behind Working Space.