John Pawson: A Visual Inventory

The Minimalist Architect Shares the Eclectic Vistas that Caught His Lens

From patterns in a trail of caterpillars in Spain to the geometry of a whitewashed house on the Greek island of Rhodes, renowned British architect John Pawson’s personal photographs reveal the visual details that intrigue him. Known for a minimalist aesthetic that places emphasis on light, material and proportion, Pawson has lent his modernist sensibility to everything from a Cistercian monastery in the Czech Republic to countless private homes, luxury yachts, and the Calvin Klein flagship store in New York. In contrast to the clean, ascetic refinement of his designs, Pawson’s photographs reveal an unexpected taste for texture and vibrancy. He has edited down an amassed collection of some 250,000 images, captured during travels around the globe and mundane moments at home, to create his forthcoming monograph A Visual Inventory, released by Phaidon later this month. “I do so much traveling and there’s so much tedious waiting," says Pawson. “Having the camera and taking pictures gains something from those situations.” Here the design icon speaks to NOWNESS about his love of the lens, perfectionism, and why he’s misunderstood. 

Do you always have a camera on you? 
I feel naked if I don’t have a camera in my pocket. Occasionally I don’t and then end up feeling like an idiot. But I don’t walk out the door with the intent to shoot. There’s no goal and there never was, apart from the vague idea that you’re capturing something that will never be the same again. 

There are no people in your images—do you tend to stay away from human subjects?
I do of course take pictures with people in them, but much less so. Katherine, my wife, is really only interested in the people—she always says, “Oh, you’re not taking another picture of a shadow are you, John?” It’s another art, people, and it’s another level of intrusion and it’s not so relaxing. 

You’ve been called a perfectionist. Does that apply to your photography as well? 
It’s brilliantly free of that. It’s very difficult to describe, but in work, it’s really about striving to achieve something where everything is working together, and all the parts are right, the fit is right. You can be a perfectionist and be imperfect, but you have to strive to make all those bits as good as possible. 

Does the book reveal anything unexpected about you and your work? 
People have a very strange idea that I only like white empty spaces or straight lines or concrete. It’s just my work that is like that. I love baroque things, I can see positive things in Elizabethan or Tudor architecture, and it’s not like everything has to be stone. It was nice to be able to show a broader spectrum of what I admire. I think people are shocked when they come to the office and see life and some clutter, even. They’re expecting no books and people with shaved heads.

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