Photographer Leslie Williamson revels in the innate individuality of people, capturing how their homes reflect each unique character and spirit. Her most recent publication, Interior Portraits, showcases a specific group of California-based mavericks.
To Williamson, everything starts with the person and their work. “There is a thorough line with everything these people do, like an unshakable continuity of vision,” she says. Interior Portraits is a tribute to 15 forward-thinking, creative, and inspiring Californians; people who have had a profound and personal effect on Williamson’s life in their own particular way.
They personify the renegade, free-thinking, creative spirit that Williamson most associates and identifies with as a Californian. “I take their example as a guiding light,” Williamson says. It includes personalities from chef Alice Waters to designer Christina Kim. While Waters changed the way Americans look at food and continues to be a great activist for locally grown food and education in schools, Christina Kim, the founder of the sustainable textile and clothing brand Dosa, draws from many international resources and cultures and is dedicated to empowering local artisans.
Interior Portraits talks about “your California”. How has California’s cultural landscape changed since you were young and growing up there?
I grew up in the Santa Clara Valley of the 1970’s and ’80s, as it was becoming Silicon Valley; the changes that have occurred since then have been immense. Yet the soul of California, and the ideals that I grew up believing in and living by are still very present in the culture of California.
How has your approach to photography and design developed over the years??
Since I began making my books, my approach to photographing homes has developed into a very personal and deliberate way of shooting. Interior Portraits is not just the name of my book, it is what I call my brand of interiors photography—photographing the home as a portrait of the person who lives there. As for design, I still feel like I am a very keen and self-taught observer. I still love it all, but being a bit more in the know on the business side, I find the rapid pace things move at now a bit of a turnoff. I don’t really understand the thinking that the interiors world has to be on the same trend schedule as the fashion world. But then again, I think the schedule of the fashion world is a bit too accelerated, too. The idea of accumulation for the sake of accumulation and change merely for the sake of change glosses over what matters to me most—I desire meaning.
Did you know all of the protagonists before?
I had met quite a few of them, but I only knew two or three better than mere acquaintances. The purpose of my work is learning about people through their home, but when I know a subject well, it makes photographing their home a deeper experience for me. Every object has more meaning and profundity because I understand (somewhat) the backstory of the home and some of the objects. No matter what though, if I know the person well or not, I do my best to enter every home with curiosity, a sense of discovery, and most importantly with an open heart. I try to see with new eyes every time I enter a space, even if I have been there many times before.
“I do my best to enter every home with curiosity, a sense of discovery, and most importantly with an open heart.”
Tell us about some of the people in your book?
The book is filled with some of California’s most original and creative thinkers and the homes where they live and create, such as poet Robinson Jeffers, artist Roy McMakin, architect Ray Kappe, fiber artist Kay Sekimach, chef and activist Alice Waters, and designer Christina Kim—to name but a few.
One thing that ended up happening more than once is that many of my subjects were actually friends with each other. Like Sam Maloof and Kay Sekimachi or Alice Waters and Christina Kim. I had not realized that when I began.
When I was photographing Alice’s home, I admired all the fabrics she had used around her home and she told me they were all by Christina. They are two very strong-minded and creative women, yet their homes are very different. Alice’s home is a traditional Victorian in Berkeley and is filled with 30 years of her life and memories. It is a traditional home that she has remodeled to work best for her life.
Christina’s space is a full-floor loft space in Downtown L.A. that she lives in half of the time when she is not traveling. The space has a hybrid feeling to it. It is her home and also a space for many other things—showroom, exhibition, and archive. It all feels innately Christina, but because of its many uses I found myself searching a bit harder for the most personal details that revealed her daily existence there, like a stack of used Filofaxes from past years, or the giraffe her nephew made, or even the bathroom that she uses versus the guest bathroom. I had to be more of a detective at Christina Kim’s home.
What kind of styles and structures do you find particularly inspiring and intriguing inside a home?
I can see the beauty in just about every style and period of design. For myself, I have a deep love of the international style and the early Modernists. I love the idea of an indoor-outdoor room much like Roy McMakin has in his home in San Diego. I aspire to having one of those someday very soon. Who wouldn’t be inspired to work en plein air every morning? But that is probably the Californian in me.
Leslie Williamson is the author of the book Interior Portraits which tells the stories of 15 creative Californians and their homes. For more of Williamson’s creative discourses, follow her on Instagram.
For this feature we caught up with Williamson to learn about her most recent work. For our previous interview with Williamson, follow this link.