Derek Swalwell is a Melbourne-based commercial photographer specialising in architecture, interiors and lifestyle photography. His work is a favourite of the leading design and advertising firms and has featured in many international publications. In this interview, we chat with Derek about his work, the technical complexities that come with architecture photography and about his latest exhibition WAKE…
How did you get your start in photography? Did your love of architecture and design come first, or your love of photography?
It’s strange as I loved photography from those early moments shooting 35mm Kodak Gold with a plastic compact that I got from the chemist. I think a lot of photographers probably already have an intrinsic underlying appreciation for design, architecture, and other forms of design expression. So I guess I naturally moved into it in some ways.
I think a lot of photographers probably already have an intrinsic underlying appreciation for design, architecture, and other forms of design expression.
Your portfolio crosses a number of styles including architecture, interiors, lifestyle and landscape photography; there are obvious links between these styles but is there one that you more closely identify with?
Not necessarily; they all really have their own elements and require different approaches. Sometimes one can apply the same technique of approach across all the genres, but I tend to try my best to imagine what I would want to see if I were the one commissioning an impression of my own design or product.
Architecture and interiors photography is a very exacting and technical style of photography; is this one of the draw-cards for you?
Definitely; I think that, in some ways, the thought process and application to details so often put into buildings, interior design or ad campaigns should then be returned through the photography of those projects. I do enjoy the technical aspect of all jobs and, even when shooting my own personal work, always opt to use the larger technical field cameras to get that ‘big’ look.
Which of your shoots presented the most technical difficulty?
Oh god! They all have their own element of technical challenges. Yes, there are jobs where I have covered that same ground many times, but I guess clients choose me because they’re after something that reflects my style and this is where I am able to work confidently and not get too caught up on the technical hazards. Good assistants are also invaluable in this role.
Technical approach, looking at the photography of early architecture photographers and keeping up to date with new high-end digital architectural gear.
For photographers interested in pursuing architecture photography, what advice do you have for getting started? Would you advocate formal study or assisting as good starting points? Can you be self-taught in this field?
I think it’s not 100% easy to ‘self teach’ ones self… but I suppose one could! It would depend on what you’re into, how often you shoot for yourself etc. My opinion is that someone needs to have at least some basis in technical photographic practices to build on as we see a lot of 35mm photography of good architecture that’s ended in tears. I guess I’m old school in that regard. Technical approach, looking at the photography of early architecture photographers and keeping up to date with new high-end digital architectural gear. The right gear and knowing what the architect really wants.
Your recent exhibition, Tokyo Wake – images from which we are featuring here – is in two parts; one part documenting the now demolished Hotel Okura in Minato-ku and the second part featuring a series of large-format images of modernist architecture in Tokyo. Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition and what inspired you to take on this personal project?
I promised that I would treat myself to the discipline of getting a show running in 2015. I learned of the Hotel Okura, its iconic reputation, its design principles, its value to the Tokyo landscape, and when I heard of the impending demolition to make way for another building, I wanted to document it in a way that was a slight shift away from the normal architectural approach. A bit more road-trip if that makes sense.
It is super important that people know about this beautiful work of design and how it served, not only the Japanese tourists whom stayed there, but also those international travelers who got to enjoy its lush interiors, plush hallways and crafted lobbies.
The second series “Hi Key Tokyo” is moving back to my traditional style of documenting some of Tokyo’s classic modernist buildings and interesting streetscapes.
A lot of the buildings that feature in the work are by Kenzō Tange the famous Japanese Architect who designed a lot of Tokyo’s iconic buildings in the 1950s – 1970s. The light in Japan has a quality about it; slightly soft and yet contrasty. Beautiful to work with. I also find similar light in Hong Kong for example.
See more of Derek’s work at:
All images copyright Derek Swalwell.
Hi Key Tokyo