Norman Wilcox-Geissen photographs the tactile and poetic work of designer-maker Joseph Walsh
In a new publication and film, the photographer lenses three years worth of the designer’s creations – focusing intently on craft and material.
- Ayla Angelos
- 3 November 2021
In 2018, Norman Wilcox-Geissen received an invitation from designer-maker Joseph Walsh – founder of the aptly-named Joseph Walsh Studio – taking him to translate his work into the photographic form. A fitting choice indeed, they soon met in person at a design fair in London shortly after to discuss the project. “Afterwards, he extended an invite to his studio, which is set in beautiful countryside in a remote part of County Cork in southern Ireland,” Norman tells It’s Nice That.
Norman’s work is immaculate in its representation as it combines soft still lifes with the occasional element of portraiture and landscape. So for Joseph to adopt Norman’s lyrical style of photography in with his own furniture design and sculptures was only going to create some magic – the result of which is a 124-page publication and film that documents the designer’s time spent in the studio over a three year period. As well as a series of recent commissions, the book illustrates the designer’s attention to material and craft alongside a host of idyllic shots of Joseph’s studio and its surrounding landscapes, which is set alongside an 18th Century farmhouse.
When discussing the brief together, Norman explains how it was open and devised from a conversation. “He really just left me to it and I worked alone photographing his work, studio and the local environment over the course of a few days,” he notes. “I relished teasing out the formal elements in his work that excited me the most. The context played heavily into my approach as I could feel how the work reverberated with the elements from the environment from which they stemmed. The studio itself was a tranquil and idyllic place.”
Born in Germany, Norman moved to Scotland as a child and has spent the last 18 years in London. He first arrived in the UK to study photography, philosophy and critical theory at LCC and Kingston respectively, and now, you’ll find him based between both London and Scotland as he continues to build on his impressive portfolio in which light and graphic compositions reign supreme. “I was initially attracted to the immersive qualities of the medium: the way that I could manage the whole process on my own from start to finish, losing myself completely in that process,” he says. “I was drawn to its unique and direct connection to reality and the scope for exploiting its condition. I still delight in its tactility and its magical qualities of chance and surprise.” Not only this, but Norman predominantly shoots on film – a deliberate choice for the added surprise and ability to control the process himself.
While photographing Joseph’s studio, Norman built on a concept that he developed with his partner, Maja, who he works with under the practice Organ; a creative studio focusing on photography, design and creative direction. “The idea was to chart the evolving course and scale of the studio through showcasing new commissions and reflecting the life, environment and culture of the present moment.” Achieving just that, the book itself appears timeless in its photographic style, tone and format. So much so that they developed the publication in a way that can be updated with each edition, “incorporating a language of shapes drawn from his work and an interview transcript of a conversation I recorded with Joseph during a walk in the woods,” he adds.
Additionally, the idea of formality is a key player throughout the visuals and pace of the project. Between each piece of functional and sculptural work, Norman wanted to connect the variety of scale, materials and intent found amongst the designer’s craft. “Layering and revelation are intrinsic to the make-up of the natural materials (some formed over centuries) and to the limits to which they could be shaped or pushed through radical intervention at the hands of the maker.” With this in mind, the depth is palpable. In a portrait of Joseph, for instance, he’s captured amongst a cluster of pieces while an object simultaneously blurs the side of the frame. In another, a curtain covers a chair and adds a sense of mystery to the configuration of the image; three of its legs poke out from the bottom and only a faint outline of the chair’s structure is revealed through the material.
The film, on the other hand, was shot on both 16mm and digital as it presents the designer in his environment, “as he ruminates on how and what it is to make his work at this particular moment in time,” says Norman. A scored soundtrack is accompanied by a voice-over from Joseph, and the film “weaves its path through a course of vignettes from his oak forest through to his workshop and studio, and describes a loose passage from day to night.” Much like the publication, the film is contemplative and poetic – a true signifier of what happens when two creative individuals join together in art.
Norman Wilcox-Geissen: Joseph Walsh Studio (Copyright © Norman Wilcox-Geissen, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.