James Balston has been an interior photographer since 2000 and is one of our frequent collaborators. His first shoot with us was on the Galvin at Windows project in 2012, as seen below.
We spoke to him to gain a little insight into an interior photographer’s world.
How did you get into interior photography?
I used to be an interior designer with a degree from Brighton Polytechnic (now University of Brighton). I worked as designer through the 90’s, but wanted change of direction. A photographer friend of mine, knowing how much I loved photography, suggested I go for it! I had done a lot of photography at art college prior to ID degree, but never thought of it as a career option. Mostly self taught, I assisted other photographers occasionally for additional experience. I could have specialised in any area, but as interiors was my thing, I decided to stick with that. I started by shooting the projects that I was designing – I continued designing for a few years, doing both photography and design side by side. Then I started getting more photo commissions, first from friends who were designers, and then from other designers, architects and magazines. I completely gave up designing 10 years ago to concentrate on photography.
Do you have a favourite project?
Lots of favourites. I love shooting hotels, partly for the travel element, but also because hotels offer so many different types of interior and architecture. An early favourite was the G Hotel in Galway, interiors designed by hat designer, Phillip Treacey! The shocking pink bar was particularly memorable.
A recent favourite, was spending a week last year in the Old War Office, an empty government building which is going to be turned into a hotel. I was documenting it as it is (before shots), and will hopefully take the after shots too!
Oh yes, and an extraordinary, almost fairytale little chateau in Normandy, shot for the Times a few years ago.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? How do you capture the atmosphere of a room?
People often tell me that, because of my design background, I see things differently. I like to focus on the structure and symmetry of a space to create a strong image. Also like to make the most of available light without augmenting with flash. I prefer natural light and shade to create mood. For residential interiors I prefer things not to be over styled. A little bit of clutter allows the owner’s personality to come through. Nobody lives in a perfect house!
What’s your interior/design style?
I like mixing styles, not rigidly following any single style or theme. Even with my design background, I prefer a naturally evolving interior, to one that’s been done all at once. I particularly like mid-century style, both in terms of architecture and furnishing, but would always break it up with something of another era.
What would your dream project be?
Increasingly I enjoy shooting our heritage, be that castles, cathedrals etc, and I’d love to be commissioned to do a book on that sort of subject. I recently took pictures at an extraordinary house called 575 Wandsworth Road for the National Trust. Would love more of that!
James’ most recent work with us was at the Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel (header image). Head over to our website to see more of the project here.