It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s the case, then photographer Richard Powers’ visual vocabulary puts him in a class shared by very few individuals.From the pages of Elle Decoration UK, World of Interiors, Vogue Living, Architectural Digests for Spain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Italy, Dwell, Elle Decor Italia, Elle Decor U.S., and Wallpaper* to the multiple bound editions of Thames & Hudson and Terra, Powers is a true visual nomad, jet-setting the globe to harvest “eye candy” for us all to taste.The word “essence” comes to my mind as I remember my introduction to and discovery of Powers’ work.The day was gray, the mist was thick, and the clouds above were so anxious to free themselves from their water-filled bellies, as if to remind the city of Montreal that summer was leaving — if not already gone.As I walked down the busy city street, I glanced at the display window of a local bookstore, and something caught my eye: Summertime, the magazine cover read, and on it was a 1950s gem of a house in glass and wood designed by Craig Ellwood. The pool, the blue skies and the way the palm trees leaned ever so gently above the house — I could smell it. I could smell that salty Pacific air as it breezed gently by me while the summer sun warmed my skin.I was there! Or I wasn’t … or was I? I would like to believe I was.The essence that was captured in Powers’ photo gave me just the little escape I needed that day. If I couldn’t fly there instantly,I figured the next best thing would be to purchase the magazine and bring Powers’ summertime home with me. And I did just that.
The first time I contacted Powers, he was relaxing in the Mediterranean on the Côte d’Azur(sounds so chic doesn’t it?). “Sorry I missed your call, Jeremy. I was just cooling off in the water. …We’re having an afternoon picnic on the beach … ,” he said in his assured British accent. “Where are you?” I asked. “Antibes,” he responded. Antibes— good for you, I thought to myself. There is a noticeable understated confidence in Powers’ voice and demeanor.It is evident that he has found his flow, the sweet spot — the balance between, life, love, work, passion and enjoying it all.Youth is present in his voice. It may be due to the constant diversity that he is exposed to in his line of work or the fact that he is away from the daily madness of a major metropolis.“If you plunk yourself in a big capital city, the work will overtake you; it won’t be of your choice. I don’t have any clients directly here in Antibes, and that’s how I want it. I choose my assignments and my scheduling.”
Powers chose his career on a bus in Guatemala — yes, you read correctly.“You’ll laugh when I say this, but I was on a bus in Guatemala. Yes, there were chickens and goats on it as well. It was back in ’91. I was traveling with my then-girlfriend. We were in Antigua, and each year they have the Semana Santa, which are the Easter celebrations, and they have these big processions. On that day, I photographed seven rolls of films. I was a passionate photographer then, but I had no idea I wanted to make a career of it. I just loved that day. …” He chuckled boyishly as he reminisced of that day, which proved to be the genesis of an amazing career.
To be published as a photographer is one thing, but to be in constant demand and commissioned on assignments all over the world is another.Powers’ eye has become an asset coveted by top publications around the globe, and Powers’ currently has three books being launched — three!Living Tropical Modern (Thames & Hudson), New Paris Style (Thames & Hudson), and The Iconic Interior (Thames & Hudson/Abrams). The Iconic Interior (the sequel to Powers’ The Iconic House), which he shot over the span of approximately two years,features 100 of the most spectacular interiors across the world, spanning the entire 20th century to the present day. It includes interiors assembled by artists and fashion designers, architects, interior and set-designers, bringing together diverse design talents from PieroFornasetti and Coco Chanel to Alvar Aalto, Marc Newson and Matthew Williamson.Representing every style from minimalism, art nouveau and neo-traditional to Gesamtkunstwerk creations that defy definition, these iconic interiors are elegant compositions that endure as lasting creations.
In addition to shooting large iconic spaces,Powers also finds enjoyment shooting small and personal spaces. New Paris Style, which was written and produced by his wife, Danielle Miller, captures 27 properties across Paris’ grooviest on-the-edge arrondissements. The houses belong to stylish creatives at the forefront of Parisian chic, including interior designers Pierre Yovanovitch and Florence Baudoux, fashion designer Corrado de Biase, jewelry designer Martha Bedoya, antiques dealer Florence Lopez, designers Ora-Ïto and Victoria Wilmotte, illustrator Jean-Philippe Delhomme and singer Marc Lavoine.When asked further about New Paris Style, you could hear passion and pride beam through Powers’ voice.“It’s her book,” he said, “I was just the photographer. She organized, she found all these places for the book. I just walked up to the places and took the pictures. It’s a beautiful book, done by us. It’s very close to us. It’s not the usual types of places I photograph — they’re very small and personal. I love it, it’s a great book.”
Recently, I caught up with Powers’ in Antibes, where he took a little break from a retouching session to chat about his own iconic journey from riding in Guatemalan buses with chickens and goats to picnics beside the Mediterranean.
You are based in Antibes. How did that happen?
Well, the digital age happened. Instead of being tethered to a lab as I was before, I’m now tethered to a computer.
Wherever I go, it doesn’t matter now. I travel with a couple of hard drives. It’s a mobile office. We live in Antibes, and my wife is a bit of a Francophile. She loves French and is fluent, so it was the natural destination that when we live in Europe, we should choose France — close to the sea, good weather. And when you’re in the south of France, you need a good airport. Nice is a great airport to fly in and out of, very user-friendly and gets me to most places direct. If it’s not direct, it means it’s a long haul, and I don’t care if I have to change planes.
I started my career in London then moved to Sydney. It was about seven years in each. When the kids were like 2 and 4, we took them on a round-the-world trip for a year. I had a book to shoot in Sri Lanka, and I thought, “Let’s just keep going.” The kids were young enough and didn’t have school. On that trip we found ourselves renting a villa in the south of France. Then I got a big job that meant we’d be staying here seven months. That was our testing ground. At the end of it, I said to Danielle, “If you want to live in France, we can do that quite happily.” I think she’d already packed her bags by the time I finished speaking! When you’ve lived in Sydney seven years and have done some heavy, long-haul work, it’s great to live in this kind of culture.
There are other reasons: With my career, I’ve always wanted to direct it myself. If you plunk yourself in a big capital city, the work will overtake you; it won’t be of your choice. I don’t have any clients directly here in Antibes, and that’s how I want it. I choose my assignments and my scheduling.
Do you think living away from it all has helped your career?
Absolutely! I’m very independent. Whenever I photograph something, nine times out of 10 I’m there because I want to photograph it. When your head is in that space, you’ll get the best results.
Do you remember the moment you decided to make photography a career? Where were you? What were you doing?
Yeah, you’ll laugh when I say this, but I was on a bus in Guatemala. Yes, there were chickens and goats on it as well. It was back in ’91. I was traveling with my then-girlfriend. We were in Antigua, and each year they have the Semana Santa, which are the Easter celebrations, and they have these big processions. On that day, I photographed seven rolls of films. I was a passionate photographer then, but I had no idea I wanted to make a career in it. I just loved that day. There was so much to shoot; it was a sensory overload. On the bus on the way back, I had almost an epiphany, and I turned to my girlfriend and said, “I know what I want to do with the rest of my life!” She turned to me and said, “Oh, my ex-boyfriend wanted to be a photographer. He was an assistant for ages and never made it.” She was basically done at that point!
What is your definition of iconic?
I think as a photographer, you start out shooting everything, and then your eye is lead to where your passion is. In the beginning, I traveled a lot to Third World countries and did a lot of work for stock companies. I could see with the way I was shooting I was either going to go down the photojournalistic line or I’d do something more home based — pardon my pun. My first gig was with a friend who was an interior home designer. Then you get from one magazine to another, and sometimes your contacts move to better magazines and bring you with them. It’s like any career.
What did you do before you became a photographer?
I had a bit of a mantra when I left college. I studied business there. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do. I don’t want to waste any life. Basically, I just wanted to enjoy it while I had it.
Do you feel interior photographers receive less attention and/or credit for their work compared to other photographers, such as fashion photographers? If so, why?
Yeah, I guess so. It’s the same as how architects and designers receive less attention than fashion designers in the public domain. Fashion is always so “new” all the time, so the media love to promote it. [You’ll also find more characters] are [drawn] to fashion photography. A fashion photographer would probably find the quiet aspects of nature boring. Also with the design, it’s a slower-paced process that’s not glamorous at all.
Your most recent book, The Iconic Interior, was just released and is the sequel to The Iconic House. What is the inspiration behind your Iconic series of books?
The Iconic Interior was out in September. It’s a follow-up to The Iconic House. It’s a collaboration — as are most books — between the publisher, the writer and the photographer. I worked very closely with [author] Dominic Bradley and my commissioning editor at Thames & Hudson, and we’re very passionate about documenting these influential houses from the last century. To me, I’m playing catch-up. I was too young to photograph most of these great houses, and to have that opportunity is incredible.
With Iconic Interior, I photographed 42 [interiors]. Sixty houses. It’s very daunting starting on the first house of 60, especially since they’re in all corners of the world. The shooting spanned about 18 months to two years — pretty standard for a book. You’re not working on them full-time of course. But when you put up a map and plunk down 60 pins, and the first house is in Australia, it’s a lot of traveling.
The pioneering houses that are iconic in the sense of our book are the ones that helped shape 20th century architecture. Some of the projects were chosen because they defined an architect — Falling Water with Frank Lloyd Wright, Kaufmann House with Neutra — some of them aren’t as famous as others, but no less defining within that career, groundbreaking work that stands the test of time.
In general, my work is inspired by all the brave homeowners, architects and designers who continue to push the boundaries of design in the home. Without them I would be lost, and of course my family!”
The most difficult interior you have ever photographed?
That was a house in Marrakesh. I didn’t expect to shoot it on the day. I was photographing another house, which is pretty crazy. It was the house of another artist, Jean Francois Fourtou. Basically, we had gone to photograph his holiday home in Marrakesh, and he took us to a field where there was an upside-down house. It was the most difficult thing I’d ever shot because I was so disoriented! Everything your head has known since being on the planet was discarded. I felt nauseated and had to go outside and look at the horizon after each shot. And not only is the house upside-down but also at an angle!
Ever since I was small, long before I picked up a camera, I was taking pictures with my eye, in my head. I still have memories of these “images” I took in my head.
Do you have a camera close by at all times?
Most of the time I have some kind of camera with me — whether an iPhone or my daughter’s point and shoot or a Nikon. I’m no camera snob. For me, it’s just a box.
You have mentioned before that you are self-taught. Photography is an art form. While the technicalities of photography can be taught through formal education, do you feel the “art” of photography can be taught or is an innate talent tangible only to those born with it?
I believe I was born with it, because throughout my childhood I was never really exposed to the arts. When I first picked up a camera, it was like picking up a pen, very natural. I’d been putting these “boxes” around everything, ever since I was small, but I didn’t really understand what I was doing until I finally picked up a camera. My first roll of film looked pretty good in comparison to my other friends!
We can all drive cars; it doesn’t make us Formula 1 drivers. I can go from a blackout studio using multiple flashes, to working out in the field with natural daylight and everything in between. It never really fazed me. Light travels in straight lines — just by applying common sense, really, you can master these kinds of techniques.
You started your career before the days of digital. What are your thoughts about shooting digital?
I went from one day shooting film to the next day shooting digital — it didn’t faze me at all. I still use the same techniques, though I don’t use any filters now, just Photoshop.
If there was no digital, and you could only shoot one last role of film, what type of film would you choose, and what would your last 36 frames capture?
The type of film would I choose … It used to be a Fuji RDP — Provia, I think it’s called now. I would take my last 36 frames of my family, because I couldn’t think of anything better to use it on.
I’m working on more books — one now about modern mountain houses. There’s a Brazil book I’m about to sign on and two or three others that are in the talking-about stage — then just my general tour of the world, taking pictures of beautiful houses.
Who is your muse?
I don’t know, really. The obvious answer would be my wife and family. They’re my inspiration, the reason why I get up in the morning. Without them, there’d be nothing. The kids really inspire me with their imagination and their ideas. We discuss every night over dinner.