John Pawson's Visual Inventory

Legendary architect edits 230,000 photographs documenting his life down to 272 for sublime new book

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"You can see beauty in very small things and in very strange places - my photographs are a reflection of what's inside this very messy brain." John Pawson is not the kind of person one would expect to have a messy anything. It's been said before but his beautifully structured, meticulously thought out and precisely executed buildings are a testament to the very idea of minimalism. What you perhaps didn't know is that as well as being a master architect he's also a voracious taker of photographs and is rarely without a camera.

He photographs to record the day, what he sees and what he is inspired by. Since acquiring his first digital camera he has amassed almost a quarter of a million images - a record, he says, of a peripatetic life. Now, he's scrupulously edited down those images to just 272 for A Visual Inventory - a book that gives a unique insight into his curiosity, thoughtfulness and particular way of viewing the world around him.

 

Richard Meier apartment building in New York (right) and a Donald Judd wall piece (left)

Richard Meier apartment building in New York (right) and a Donald Judd wall piece (left)

 

"I would be the first to admit that I am obsessive," he tells Phaidon. "On the one hand, there is the attraction of photography's speed and immediacy. But more pressing for me is the sense that if you don't record anything, moments slip away and are lost forever."

 

An artificial backdrop in Universal Studios (left) and a railway bridge in Namibia (right)

An artificial backdrop in Universal Studios (left) and a railway bridge in Namibia (right)

 

Placed side by side, the juxtaposition of the images enables the viewer to see the seemingly unrelated recorded moments that make up Pawson's unique inspiration and subsequent thought patterns. "Pairing them forces you to look at them differently," he says. The captions to each image detail his thoughts exactly. The text accompanying the picture below reads:

"With the plane only 15 minutes from Prague airport and thus well into its descent, my eye was caught by the pattern of the snow lying on the ground. The transition from virtually bare earth was almost instantaneous - just the odd, isolated strip of snow and then an obliterating blanket of white."

 

Southwold a coastal town in the east of England (left) and the snow landscape seen from a plane to Prague (right)Southwold a coastal town in the east of England (left) and the snow landscape seen from a plane to Prague (right)

 

"My instinct is to try to translate things into a form I can hold onto and come back to - even letters and odd lines from books," Pawson says. "You never know when a picture capturing the texture of a wall in Syria in the midday sun might be just what you need as a reference to convey an idea to a client or colleague. When a member of the team returns from a site visit full of enthusiasm for a building of detail they have seen, my reflex response is always, 'show me the photograph!'"

Pawson is the subject of a major new show at Architekturmuseum at the Pinakeothek der Moderne, Munich, opening on February 29. John Pawson's A Visual Inventory is available to buy from the Phaidon Online Store. Read and listen to John Pawson's Muse Music playlist. Read and watch all John Pawson stories and videos. See a John Pawson slideshow posted by our good friends at Nowness.

 

A Shiro Kuramata acrylic vase tints its surroundings with coloured light (left) and the workbench in the paint shop of the Pinarello cycle factory in northern Italy (right)

A Shiro Kuramata acrylic vase tints its surroundings with coloured light (left) and the workbench in the paint shop of the Pinarello cycle factory in northern Italy (right)

 


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