John Pawson is an architect and designer known for his affinity for white in the buildings and interiors he creates. But as his new book Spectrum makes clear, “it is impossible to talk about any architecture—including my own—without talking about [color],” Pawson writes. The book, published today by Phaidon, collects more than 300 of Pawson’s photographs, pulled from an archive that measures in the hundreds of thousands, he reports. They record a wide range of spaces, materials, landscapes and vistas along with fragments from buildings, sculptures and paintings, serving as visual notes and exposing “a strong instinct for using images to archive my thoughts and experiences,” he writes. While the images offer an intriguing look into Pawson’s diverse visual interests, it is their order that holds the book together—they are arranged in a careful sequence according to color. A run of images might include carved stone in Petra, Jordan, cracked mud seen from the air in Kenya, a set of smooth brown squares on concrete, chiseled stone blocks in France, fallen pine needles in London and what might be rusted metal or textured stone in Israel. In these six images, the tone moves subtly away from yellowish browns and into reds. Elsewhere, pink, as it moves from tan to orange, is represented by an Argentine sunset, the side of a painted wooden house in Buenos Aires, a Miami apartment building and a Moroccan alley.
As Pawson writes, “The connection between photography and architecture is an intimate one. They are each ‘deeds of light.'” While taking pictures, Pawson says he pays attention to the various ways that light interacts with the materials it hits, and to the differences between the way the eye and the lens perceive the results of those interactions. The experience has made him particularly attuned to theories of the color spectrum, from Pythagoras’s and Goethe’s to the more objective ordering that only a computer can make. “There is appeal in a systematicized approach that is rooted in measurable criteria,” he writes about using a computer to order the images. “But sometimes, however much and however sophisticated the technology you bring to bear on a task, there is still no substitution for the human eye and judgement.” The result is a chromatic arrangement of images that reflects a very personal view of the world.