Architectural photography by Don Cameron inspires furniture design at Sydney exhibition – Wallpaper* | Ad On Picture

Don Cameron’s architectural photography inspires the furniture design in the Sydney exhibition

Don Cameron’s creative repertoire includes music video direction, design and photography. Here, Deyan Sudjic explores how he combines his skills in ‘Translations’ at Sydney’s Sally Dan-Cuthbert Gallery (until 2 October 2022).

Don Cameron is an artist whose work defies easy categorization. He studied design at Central Saint Martins in London, had a career as a successful music video director and worked with Blur, Garbage and The Pet Shop Boys, then returned to Australia and began working on an architectural scale, creating interiors for the Hotel Hotel Canberra and the Fratelli Paradiso restaurant in Sydney among others.

Alongside all of this, he has spent 20 years creating a collection of photographic images that explore some of the darker moments of Europe’s recent past. They form three related series. One is about the massive concrete fortifications of the Atlantic Wall, built by the Germans using slave labor during World War II. Another shows the remains of the remarkable series of monuments erected in what was then Yugoslavia between 1960 and 1980. The third looks at the pessimistic sculptural architecture of the 1960s, often mistakenly lumped together as Brutalism. Cameron is particularly interested in the work of Claude Parent and Paul Virilio, whose architecture, the product of a time when fears of nuclear annihilation were at their height, referred explicitly to the concrete ruins of the Atlantic Wall.

Don Cameron, ‘Nevers Stool’, 2022, in walnut with a picture of his inspiration, Claude Parent’s Church in Burgundy, Nevers, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist

Now Cameron has used these images as a starting point to design a limited edition furniture collection for the Sally Dan-Cuthbert gallery in Sydney. Cameron’s furniture includes a solid wood desk, coffee table and stool, a modular sofa and a series of steel floor lamps. He calls the collection “Translations,” and each piece openly relates to one of the subjects of his photographs.

He looks for ways to approach the surface patinas and shapes he found in his photographs and shift them from one category to another. A building is translated into a photograph, which in turn becomes the starting point for an object. Design, architecture and sculpture merge imperceptibly into one another.

Don Cameron, ‘Bloc Floor Lamp 01 / Polished’, 2022, with a picture of his inspiration, the church by Fritz Wotruba in Vienna, Vienna2020 Image courtesy of the artist

While he cites the worn concrete of a ruined observation post in Alderney as the visual source for his one-drawer desk, this is a finished and sophisticated piece of furniture. His monolithic stool references the massive structure of Claude Parent’s church in Nevers, Burgundy in its monolithic weight, but it is composed of carefully worked black American walnut rather than concrete with a rough, board-carved surface showing the wooden forms of the it was cast.

The stacked forms of Fritz Wotruba’s church in Vienna served as the basis for the extruded rectangular shapes of his floor lamps made of patinated sheet steel. His modular sofa has a steel structure to support its sheet steel surfaces, in the manner of Yugoslavian monuments.

‘Bloc Sofa Element’, 2022. ‘Alderney Desk’, 2022, alongside an image of his inspiration, a ruined observation post, Alderney2020. ‘Nievers Stool in Ebonized Walnut’, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist

Cameron is not a manufacturer himself, but working closely with experienced woodworkers, metalworkers and upholsterers, Cameron becomes a participant in the creative process rather than the silent observer that he was as a photographer. The individual components for the desk, stool and coffee table are cut and shaped using a milling machine programmed with a digital translation of Cameron’s own freehand sketches. They are then hand finished in one of Sydney’s few workshops to combine traditional woodworking skills with automated machine tools operated by computer numerical control.

The idea that different forms of visual creativity can carry the same sensibility is not new. A Mondrian canvas and a Rietveld chair are clearly related, without either attempting to be a representation of the other. Importantly, Cameron’s years of experience collecting the work of some of the most important furniture designers of the 1950s and 1960s ensures his furniture is not overwhelmed by the weight of the contents it supports. §

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