Interview: Adrian Wilson – A Closer Look at Architectural Photography

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I once read a quote about design, it reads: Design should never say, “Look at me.” It should always say, “Look at this.” that’s the exact feeling that Adrian Wilson achieves when you browse his photographs.

Beyond the design itself, there’s a concept. Adrian jokes with architects “they take 2D drawings, make them 3D and I then take them back to 2D. What I am actually trying to achieve is 1D”.

Wilson truly accomplishes what other interior, architecture and design photographers thrive for. His photographs are making a statement. They make things good and then better and right and fantastic for the people who use and encounter them.

Wilson shoots high end architecture and interiors from his base in Manhattan. His clients include many of the world’s top architects such as Skidmore Owings & Merrill Gensler and HOK. He is the photographer for DDI retail magazine and is commissioned regular for Interior Design magazine.

After 23 years shooting, his simple aim is still “To make spaces look better than they really are”.

Daniel: Could you tell us about yourself, or like I like to call it “Give us your photography CV” Was photography always a passion for you, or did come into it as a way to express yourself, or to pay the bills? / When did photography become more then a hobby?

Adrian: I had no art training at school as my father and two older brothers were successful graphic designers and I desperately wanted to do something different from them. Photography looked like an easier career and certainly more glamorous than rubbing Letraset onto white boards.

At some point in your life you realize the important choices you make as a youth are a result of something you don’t want to be, rather than something you do.

Daniel: Your main focus in photograph is interior, design & architecture. When you take a photograph – what is it that you hope to capture?

Adrian: I have really spent my career trying to distill and simplify my images. I joke with architects that they take 2D drawings, make them 3D and I then take them back to 2D. What I am actually trying to achieve is 1D, which for me is the purity of visual composition. A photograph has no dimension of space or time. Arranging the elements that make up an image to create either visual harmony or discord is where art and substance live.

Composition only exists in a two dimensional world – in a three dimensional world there are no boundaries or frames to fix the viewpoint. A room may have a certain arrangement of features but because the viewpoint is not fixed, composition cannot exist. Exploring the purity and nuances of composition for me is equivalent to monks meditating on spirituality or physicists trying to work out how time works – it is a gloriously fulfilling riddle. Locating those compositions in a room full of infinite viewpoints is like finding a diamond in a desert.

Daniel: There seems to be a lot going on in your photographs, I’m also getting this sort of “futuristic” vibe when as I was browsing through your gallery. Did you go to school to learn photography?

Adrian: In 1985 upon leaving high school, with no art education, I was accepted into one of the most prestigious photographic courses in Blackpool, England. I only completed part of the course, because I was sponsored by Fuji as the first artist who combined CGI and photography. I worked with everyone from Kiki Picasso, to creating the artwork for bands such as James’ Gold Mother.

In the late 80’s I started shooting for nightclub/bar/restaurant magazines, shooting around 2,000 interiors in the UK and Europe over the next 10 years. I shot them all without any lighting and with one lens, at least 40 images per interior.

Futurism is dormant in this society. I photograph spaces that are seen as futuristic but it is a lazy and threadbare society that sees futurism now the same way it did in the 60’s. Karim Rashid could be an extra right out of Woody Allen’s“Sleeper”, Logan’s Run or Gerry Anderson’s“Joe 90”. Why does futurism mean shiny white organic shapes, clean empty spaces and cliché spaceship design? We have one old space station and I don’t see it looking anything like a Future Systems interior. There are not many periods over the last 200 years where “futuristic’ design style has remained stuck in a rut for 40 years.

Daniel: When did you know you finally made it as a professional?

Adrian: Being professional is not about being paid for a shoot, it is doing a shoot to the best of your ability, no matter what. I remember shooting an apt in NY, in July, no ventilation, 100 degrees, that was a complete mess, with an asshole client . I shot for 9 hours and pulled out a fabulous set of images that everyone loved. Professionalism is remaining in control and doing it right.

Shooting for super discerning clients like Apple and Chanel, who can choose any photographer on the planet , that gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Daniel: Do you remember your first photography sale?

Adrian: Nope.

Daniel: Could you share with us, a good photography or even an architectural/design quote?

Adrian: With apologies to Ernie Kovacs, “Photography is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done.”

Daniel: What’s on the horizon for Adrian Wilson?

Adrian: I recently traveled to Varanasi, India to document longest solar eclipse with thousands of Hindi’s on the banks of the Ganga and I’d love to visit the hanging Monastry of Heng Shan in China this year if I can get the time. Factory311 have several conceptual events in Europe and New York this year which I am really excited about being a part of.

I am experimenting with video, bringing my ideas of composition to a moving image and an obvious anathema to my 1D philosophy . Working within a media that expands the composition rather than distilling it will be my next challenge.

I have been asked to give a lecture at Typecon in LA this August to discuss my unique collection of vintage typography and art. Vincent Castiglia will finally finish tattooing my back after a year’s work.

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Adrian Wilson Architectural Photography