There’s a special energy which permeates the workspaces of creative people. ‘It’s a free place where ideas can percolate and bubble,’ reflects Melbourne-born, New York-based photographer Paul Barbera. The lensman behind the cult blog Where They Create has recently released his much-awaited second book Where They Create / Japan, which offers a rare glimpse inside the studios of revolutionary artists, architects and designers.
While Paul’s online version of the Where They Create project organically chronicles encounters with creatives met on his travels, this second print volume has materialised from a planned and carefully considered shortlist of over 200 subjects. ‘I wasn’t a known name to most of these studios, and so who said yes or no was often determined by whether or not they resonated with the project,’ explains Paul. ‘There were some surprises: Tadao Ando, one of the most renowned architects in the world, responded to my fax! And designers like Kenya Hara, Shinichiro Ogata and Reiko Sudo, who have never had their personal desks photographed before, also agreed.’
Accompanying Paul’s images are enthralling interviews by Kanae Hasegawa. ‘For Japan, it was important that the writer, Kanae, could communicate in Japanese and brought her expertise on the subject matter,’ stresses Paul, who has dyslexia, and worked hard to memorise names and communicate. He was also thankful to have the support of his wife Queenie Monica Chan, who organised shoot schedules, liaised with studios, coordinated logistics in Japan, and to whom this body of work is dedicated. Nevertheless, one of the most challenging tasks, the editing of more than 20,000 images, fell solely to Paul!
The photographer set out on this project as a simple means to explore his fascination with Japan. ‘Many Japanese designers are very focused on quality over quantity, and so it drives a certain level of craftsmanship, and I wanted to learn where this comes from, especially with regards to the practice of Shinto,’ he explains. ‘I also wanted to know why there is such a strong sense of aesthetic in Japan.’
‘For me, they are the original minimalists!’
Surprisingly, one of the more interesting insights surfaced after the book was published, when Paul was invited to do a talk at the Japan Society in New York, alongside featured artists. ‘Someone asked me why I chose artist Hiroko Takahashi to be on the cover of the book, I said it was not easy for me to choose but that I really loved the image. They explained that in Japan, the person on the cover would have been based on their seniority, and that the order of the book would have followed that too,’ tells Paul. The title’s structure instead follows the flow of studios, with the first being that of graphic designer Rikako Nagashima, which is situated in the 1968 Tokyo Olympics athlete’s village.
When questioned on why people are so fascinated by peeking into the workspaces of others, it’s plain and simple to Paul: ‘we are all voyeurs at heart!’