It all started with some rusting sculptures standing in a garden. ‘I’d noticed those incredible hulks on my way to the pub many times, and had always wondered who lived there,’ says photographer Tom Harford-Thompson.
On discovering that the house and its hulks belonged to the artist Hamish Black, Harford-Thompson approached him about doing a shoot.
A freelance portrait photographer for The Guardian and Art Review, Harford-Thompson loves interiors, but felt alienated by styled, glossy aesthetic often seen in magazines and books. ‘Some of those interiors are so anonymous, and I’m thinking “who lives here, how did they arrive at this point?”’
His own book, Artists’ Homes: Live/Work Spaces for Modern Makers, was inspired by that first shoot, and features 350 illustrations of 28 creatives and their homes in the UK. ‘I was following my nose about what I like to look at, and often one thing led to another,’ he says of his choice of subjects.
Each chapter starts with a portrait, followed by a series of house pictures. ‘They’re not the typical wide-angled shot of a room,’ he explains, ‘instead, I concentrate on the details of people’s lives, like a dressing table or mantelpiece, because they tell you more about the person.’
Aesthetically, he believes that the artists’ homes have evolved rather than been conventionally designed, and have ‘a patina of wear, an interior that’s come about through use’.
Like the potter Sarah Walton’s cottage on the South Downs, bought by her parents after WW2. ‘Recipes are taped to the inside of kitchen cupboard doors, so you can see a history,’ Harford Thompson says. This history is honoured by his photographic approach: ‘I don’t spend hours with a tripod lining up a shot and rearranging everything, and there’s no retouching.’
Rather than a specific look, the book celebrates an attitude to life. ‘All these people have done their own thing against the odds.’ He cites Billy Childish, co-founder of the Stuckist art movement, who ‘worked on the margins, but has never given up’, and that’s reflected in his clothes, work, and house. The result is the antidote to the standard coffee table book.
‘Artists’ Homes: Live/Work Spaces for Modern Makers’, by Tom Harford-thompson is published by Thames and Hudson, £24.95
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