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Stories

Leslie Williamson

by margit


ABOUT

Leslie is originally from San Jose, California but now lives in San Francisco in a house with a beautiful garden, that she shares with one of her dearest friends.

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If you have a weakness for design and architecture and in particular the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic, you might - like me - have a history of endorphins uncontrollably flooding your system every time you make a find at a local flea market and are able to talk the seller into sending the piece off for “preservation” at your home at bargain price. Or - and maybe this is more likely - you own a copy of Handcrafted Modern, a compilation of Mid-Century architect, designer and artist’s homes across the US, or it’s European counterpart Modern Originals.

I’ve been daydreaming away many hours over the contemplative simplicity and beauty of the images featured, before I finally met the creative force behind both of these books: Leslie - a woman, who has the compelling vibe of someone, whose soul is at complete ease, knowing to have found her purpose in life. 

Leslie is a photographer, artist and writer and has wandered a little off path within a family that naturally gravitates towards caring and people-centric occupations. Her grandmother was a nurse, her grandfather a policeman, her father a social worker and her sister is following her mum’s footsteps as a teacher. Leslie never had the slightest doubt, that her forte would lie in the arts. She always loved being creative, whether it was music, dance or later on in high school graphic design. For a long time her path seemed to be clearly leading towards fashion design. Until she was about 19 and - in a very analytical self-assessment - concluded that, she had no love to either draw or sew and therefore would become a fashion photographer instead. “I thought photography would be 'faster'. Of course I was completely wrong, since I was trained when film and the darkroom were the only way. There was nothing 'fast' about it with all those hours in the darkroom, but something about photography seemed to fit with me.”

She can’t remember there being a decisive moment or an event that sparked her interest in architecture. It was just always there and something she loved and appreciated for many years, but also something she kept completely separate from her photography. In fact the architectural photography class she took in college was the one she enjoyed the least. It wasn’t until 2005, when she started making her 'dream list' of architect and designer houses she wanted to learn more about, that her pastime interest and her profession abruptly merged. She researched and found stand-alone articles in magazines and a few books, but was always frustrated with the truncated, short chapters and the lack of detail in the imagery. "It was all wide room beauty shots and not enough 'What's in that corner?' and 'What is sitting on their bedside table?' I wanted to see more and deeper." That's when she decided to transform her 'dream list' into a book project and started to pay each house on her list a visit.

I feel a profound sense of purpose in photographing and capturing many of these homes and people. My work makes me extremely happy and is deeply satisfying. I know I am doing what I was put on this earth to do.

Over the years she has worked her way from nearest to farthest, photographing homes of Mid-Century contemporaries and documenting them before they disappear or change too far from their original state. Applying her intrinsic sensibility and forgoing all she ever learned about architectural photography, she found her own gentle sense of expression. “I made a conscious decision to shoot the houses my own way. For me, houses and architecture are more about the people that inhabit them as well as the space.” The two books she has published thus far, have become instant classics, and as I am writing, she is working on three more. She keeps adding 'new' finds to her steadily growing 'dream list', that still reflects a longing and deep appreciation for timeless design and architecture, but has become something far more tangible for Leslie.

Aside from her books she continues her commercial work - shooting for corporate clients, designers and magazines - she works on a fine arts series and has started to consult for various clients on mainly interiors and Mid-Century focused projects. Her favorite days are the ones she spends camera in hand, but luckily there is barely an aspect of her work she doesn’t enjoy.

An immense pleasure and urge to tell stories - both visually and verbally, is the underlying theme to everything she does. She weaves intimate emotions into her words and reveals the natural essence of her subject through the attentive eye of her camera. And that’s when you feel it - her family’s’ caring gene, her enthusiasm, her passionate interest and genuine love for everything that ends up in front of her lens. Leslie is a living chronicle of the people she meets, the places she travels, the moments she captures, preserving them long after they have passed and generously sharing them with us.

 

Three Questions

What would you say were the biggest obstacles and challenges you had or have to overcome on your way?

Well, it has taken me a long time to get to where I am now. I have been a photographer for over 15 years. So honestly, there were lots of challenges in the past and still there are new ones. Most of my challenges center on the business/marketing end of things. The creative stuff is like breathing to me. Making a living as a photographer is a challenge sometimes even now, but I just figure it out. Now that much of my energy outside of commercial work goes into my book projects I am in a crash course to find new sources of funding. So I am learning about grants, I did a Kickstarter … I am open to all options.

What helped/helps you overcome them?

Simply asking for help, which funnily enough does not always occur to me immediately. People are really great and helpful if you just approach from a place of learning. And lets face it, we are ALL learning as we go along. I know a bit about making books now, but I still have a lot to learn. So I ask people who know more than me.

What do you dream about?

On a personal level, I dream about the normal stuff - travel, meeting a great man to share my life with, owning a weekend getaway on the coast or in the desert somewhere… and I want to build a little writing shack/home office in my backyard. I have been dreaming and designing that in my mind quite a bit lately.
In regards to my work, I dream about finding a business partner that is great at all the things I do not excel at namely the marketing, strategy, and business end of my work and shares my passion for the work I create. Maybe it is a photo rep or a really great business manager, I’m not really sure, but they would take that load off my plate (and mind!) so I can concentrate on creating images and projects and writing full time. In the longer view, I am looking for an organization and/or even a benefactor that will support the work I do and help to turn all these images of great designers and creatives into a visual library that documents design and it’s creators during our time. This is my life’s work and there is so much more to do with the library as the long term goal. It would be great to have a partner in it and know there will be a home for this library where people can access the full breadth of images for years to come. My hope is that my work will continue to inform and inspire people long after I leave this earth.