26 Sep Jonathan Cartu Claims: The Irish photographer capturing sublime global interiors
In the right hands a camera can really make magic. Or, to put it another way, in the right hands, a camera can really make us see what has been right under our noses all along. It may also help us to step into other worlds. In Irish photographer Simon Watson’s new book, The Lives of Others, the camera takes us on a trip through some of the world’s most wonderful homes.
The wonder isn’t always that of opulence, though it is true that the Tangier home of architect and designer Roberto Peregalli is pretty swish, as is the Paris apartment of shoe guru Christian Louboutin. In the latter, however, Watson’s lens lingers on a collection of men’s brogues, and on a cat seemingly poised to attack a chandelier, rather than on the perfection of his bedroom.
In the advocate for architectural preservation, Ian Lumley’s Dublin house at 12 Henrietta Street, the interiors are shown in haunting shadows, with stacked pictures, fragments of sculpture, and a focus on a crack in the plasterwork. “What gets me?” he pauses … “Aesthetic gets me. Beauty in the real sense of the word. The imperfections, that’s what excites me. When I’m taking a photograph, that’s the most important thing.”
‘I’m not a world-renowned photographer,’ he says, with a trace of huffiness. I think he must be
He goes on to talk about light, shadow and penumbra, “the shadow in between”. And that’s even before he gets to the what and the who of his subjects. “But when you mix it up, when you jumble it up, that’s what gets me.” That “jumble” has brought him great success.
Watson left Ireland in 1989, at the age of 19, having dropped out of film school, and wanting to paint. He fetched up in New York, without the proverbial “bean in your pocket”, at a time when you could still find a loft apartment for said bean in SoHo. His, a two bed on Crosby Street, cost him a princely $300 a month. Later he moved to a brownstone in Brooklyn, again, just before it all became unaffordable.
I’m wondering at this life of serendipities and luck. Or was it sheer hard work? How do you make a career as a world-renowned photographer in New York, one of the hardest cities to make the grade? “I’m not a world-renowned photographer,” he says, with a trace of huffiness. I think he must be. He describes a life jetting around the world shooting subjects from John Banville to Karl Lagerfeld, with commissions from Vanity Fair to W Magazine, and personal projects that have included an exhibition at Auschwitz, and a shoot at Stalin’s former Dacha in Sochi.
“I’m just like a lot of photographers,” he says. “It’s inaccurate to be cast in that light. There are a lot of photographers out there who are better.” Who are his heroes? “I look up to painters more than photographers,” he says, citing the Italian sixteenth-century painter Pontomoro, and the Belgian contemporary artist Luc Tuymans, which certainly gives a sense of his breadth. “Anyway,” he adds. “It’s more interesting to talk about the ‘what’ than the ‘who’.”
Talking with photographers is an interesting experience. Words are not their work, and yet their work carries way beyond words. Watson is self-deprecating in conversation. His anecdotes are peppered with “no, don’t say that’s,” and “yes, but we can’t write that…” And lest you think you’re missing juicy scandal about the lives of those others, contained in his recent book, I promise you, you’re not. Or, to put it another way, if juicy scandal there is, he’s far too professional to reveal it.
He is charming, but with the kind of charm that brings him just where he wants or needs to be, and keeps him from absolutely anywhere he doesn’t want to go. The places he has wanted to be are indeed extraordinary. From post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans to the Irish homes of the late Garech de Bruin at Luggala, Co Wicklow and the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava at Clandeboye, to the homes of Louboutin and the Duchess of Alba, it’s quite an adventure.
“I don’t know,” when I ask him about his route to…