Marco Galloway is photographer and furniture maker based in Brooklyn, New York.
A Glasgow native and long time friend of the studio, we sat down with him to discuss his work and inspiration, and how the two disciplines he specialises in can correlate and inform each other.
In a sentence or two, introduce yourself and your art.
My name is Marco Galloway, I’m originally from Scotland but have spent the past 5 or 6 years in New York City. My output crosses a few disciplines, but I primarily focus on photography of objects and spaces, and designing and making site specific furniture.
As disciplines, many would say that furniture making and photography are quite distinct from one another; that furniture making is Design, and photography is Art. Do you agree?
I’m not sure I necessarily agree with that classification. For me, photography can be an educational tool when I need it - a helpful reference for designing a stool or a table - and at other times it is purely for personal enjoyment. Intentionally documenting places I’ve been and things I’ve seen into a reference bank for other aspects of my output has been helpful, though only recently developed into something more artistic in own head. Which I guess is when I began to feel more comfortable showing it.
I wouldn’t say photography and designing / making furniture are too dissimilar, or at least my process for each leans significantly on the other. Generally in life, my brain works in a fairly logical, consequential manner (though those close to me would probably beg to differ) so I usually approach everything step by step, problem solving.
To begin designing a chair I will look at my photos, and at the end of it all, I will take a photo. Throughout making a piece I’ll take a million shitty iPhone photos of the process when I like the way it’s sitting on the workbench or whatever, and that educates what I want the final outcome to look like.
In Susan Sontag’s essay Plato’s Cave she says photography “democratizes all experiences by translating them into images”, and I think the accessibility of it is definitely what drove me towards it, along with a nudge from my dad when I was a teenager. She then says “to photograph something is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge.” When I first read it I couldn’t understand why it seemed unnecessarily charged but she’s basically verbalised something I wasn’t capable of: I don’t want to stand on the other side of someone’s story without knowing the depth of it.
So I’ve shied away from taking photos of people, and gravitated towards inanimate objects and spaces - if I can inject some humanity into those inanimate objects I’d feel a certain degree of achievement.
With that in mind, do you think there’s an overall theme that defines your work?
I’m attracted to things that I’m sure a lot of other people would find mundane, but that’s kind of the joy of it all for me, differing perspectives and the age old argument of aesthetic vs practicality. I hope I can look back one day and find myself slap bang in the middle. When I design furniture the main objective is practicality, and when I take photographs I’m drawn to subjects that have a degree of practicality too: stairs, chairs and trees, etc.
I guess I find it easier to reconcile the urge for creativity when it has some sort of practicality, which is probably harder to find in a photograph, but really at the crux of it, it’s all a visual output and I like to control the aesthetic. So I would love if there is an identifiable visual language across the disciplines to the user or viewer.
What do you think people feel when they look at your images?
I think in my photographs over the past couple of years, part of what I’m doing is trying to get away from the noise in my day to day life. I gravitate toward spaces or objects that hopefully give the viewer positive emotions. The output is intended to be serene in terms of focus and processing, if it can transport the viewer away from the monotony of day to day life, like a flicker of remembrance to something or somewhere else for just a moment in time, that would be amazing to me.
Do you have a preferred medium or method in photography?
I almost always shoot on film, unless I’m photographing a commission when I’ll take digital alongside to back it up but honestly, I just enjoy it less. I’m not a purist about it, some of my favourite photographers shoot predominantly in digital but for me, the gap between taking the photos and getting them developed let’s you dream, which is a nice, slightly naive emotion to attach to something that you take fairly seriously.
I taught myself to photograph on film through trial and error, and there were a lot of errors. I don’t have the technical nous to translate that into digital, and as time progresses I’m becoming more and more impatient, so learning the digital side of things will have to wait. I learnt in 35mm and for a long time all of my photographs were mainly on that format. But a few years ago I began to experiment in 120mm when my good friend Teddy Fitzhugh leant me his RZ67, and it was like discovering the toy you’ve always wanted but never knew whether it existed. Since then, I split between the two, but the soft details you achieve in 120mm are so soothing to me, and though it takes longer to set up the images, and the equipment is heavy, it’s usually worth it to me.
Tell us about a specific photograph you took.
After all of that I said earlier about shying away from photographing people, I think my favourite photograph is this one of my mum cutting my brother Joe’s hair when we were on holiday together a couple years back. I’m sure it resonates more strongly with me than anyone else because of the people involved and their proximity to me, but I think whoever’s viewing it can tell there is a degree of care between the two people. It feels very familial and what’s better than family? It was our first family holiday in 5 or 6 years, and it brings back really fond memories.
Tell us about how you make furniture. Do you build with timber or use other materials? Does the process start digitally, on paper, or physically?
I don’t sketch on paper often enough - whenever I do it’s always beneficial but as I said, I can be impatient when it comes to productivity. I’ll usually start the process in Rhino and use that as the creative tool, so that when I’m happy with the final design, translating it into a cutting list is really straightforward. Pretty much all of my furniture is made from wood, whether sheet material or hardwood. For tables I’ll often augment it with glass but sadly I don’t manufacture that myself.
My brother Louis taught me the base of everything I know when it comes to woodworking. He’s a thousand times more skilled than I am and was set-building for fashion shoots in NYC and got me involved on a few builds, which was a really good way to learn the versatility of standard/available materials along with the basics of making shapes. I’ve never really built in the UK so I couldn’t speak to availability of materials, but out here in the USA you get a wide variety of veneered ply woods and I find these really fun to work in. You can make these monolithic shapes out of ply, but in really strange veneers like white oak, sapele or old growth pine - they feel substantial to me, not always the most elegant, but I like the fairly concrete geometry you can achieve with them.
Which designers inspire you?
People like Alvar Aalto and Donald Judd of course, but in terms of outlining a conceptual idea of what furniture can be: Enzo Mari. The way he tried to democratise things to make it accessible to anyone with a cutting list and some materials from a hardware store, that to me is the greatest thing you can do.
I don’t really look to other artists in a huge way for visual inspiration - it’s more an approach that will appeal to me. I guess, going back to Mari, that is why I like working with plywood. It’s accessible, not super fancy so you don’t need to be really careful with it and you can kind of make anything from it. And with that logic, what Charles and Ray Eames did with plywood was quite incredible, and likewise Marcel Breuer.
Perhaps it was a sign of the times, but in the mid 20th century, it seems a lot of now iconic designers were working with the cheapest materials you could get?
Yeah, to a degree they were democratising good design. Gropius with Bauhaus, Aalto with Artek, they were bridging the gap between purely functional furniture, and overly-fancy items made with expensive hard wood and a crazy amount of decoration. Though it’s probably with mentioning, the standard materials back then were a lot better than what we can get today!
You’re a Glaswegian in New York. Two cities that are in part defined by the character of their residents and communities. Do you take inspiration from the local environment?
I reckon that most cities are defined by the character of their residents, perhaps some more than others and New York & Glasgow probably fall into that category. It’s true that in both places the sense of community and identity is strong. People are generally proud to say they’re from them and as basic as it is, that’s affirming. New York can be an incredibly transient place and honestly that can have a negative effect on the here and now, so tapping into communities that make you feel more grounded is important. Glasgow’s weather can be deeply depressing but then the people are more uplifting than anywhere I’ve been (albeit while being simultaneously dark). I’m a city person. Don’t get me wrong, I need breaks and love to leave, but I also love to come back - and I find them more inspiring because people from diverse backgrounds are all attempting to co-exist.
One of my favourite books is Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. It’s basically a long list of detailed descriptions of cities that an explorer has either imagined or explored and there’s a line in it about one of the cities, “It is pointless trying to decide whether Zenobia is to be classified among happy cities or among the unhappy. It makes no sense to divide cities into these two species, but rather into another two: those that through the years and the changes continue to give form to their desires, and those in which the desires either erase the city or be erased by it.” It seems basic, but I love this sentiment: if your desires are being erased by the noise around you then it’s probably time to shift, and one of the great joys of modern life is the mobility we now have in a geographical sense.
So yes, where I currently am inspires me hugely but deep down it’s more the people and communities, rather than the places themselves, that resonate.
Do you collaborate with other artists? If so, would you say this is important to your creative output?
I recently published a zine with Catalogue and it’s the first time in a long time I felt like I was leaning on someone else’s input for the final output. I am terrible at asking for help, so I try to do everything myself and naturally that doesn’t make for the best of outcomes.
So this was a really nice, eye opening experience that I would like to enjoy more often when it comes to crossing disciplines. I’m still definitely a novice in furniture, so when I first started designing I leant heavily on my brother Louis, and anything I produced was really a collaboration because he taught me everything. He moved back to Scotland at the beginning of 2020, and I definitely miss being able to sketch things down and talk through it with him - though he probably doesn’t miss amateur hour with me. In recent months the artist Marc Hundley has also been a great source of inspiration, his perspective on life and art is so well balanced that it has had quite a profound effect on me after working with him on a few projects.
I think in any practice, and life in general, communication is kind of the bedrock for progress, so when you can make space for that in your creative output it’s usually beneficial. So while I haven’t collaborated a great deal, it’s something I’d definitely be more open to.
How did your collaboration with Catalogue work - were you involved in the design process at all?
The design and layout was left totally up to them, which was quite refreshing. I gave Ollie (Designer, Catalogue) 100 or more photos and came up with three concepts - knowing that every good photo books needs a subject - but actually Catalogue felt an overall theme wasn’t necessary. They then had a first pass at the design and order and to be honest it didn’t need any more work, and I didn’t feel the need to be too precious about it either. When I saw the picture they had chosen for the front cover (an image from a camping trip to Northern California two years ago) I was surprised - it’s an image I love, but I assumed that was only because of the memories of the trip that I attached to it. For them to pick it out of 100 photographs and use it on the front cover, that was weirdly satisfying. I really trust Ollie’s judgement aesthetically, so for him to choose that was affirming in the sense that something deeply personal can have a wider appeal.
Technology has transformed both the mediums you specialise in, particularly in the past 20 years. Where do you see your art, and the respective industries in lies in, a decade from now?
For better or worse, I’m definitely attracted to more traditional mediums but like I said earlier, it’s not because I’m a purist. Part of me rails against rampant production and consumption, but I can’t say I embody that personally. Likewise, some of my biggest inspirations are from the Bauhaus, where a major focus was mass production (although at least they gave a shit how it looked). A few months ago I sent a bunch of ply to get cut by CNC machine, and it was the first time I’ve handled a project from nuts to soup that involved this in the process. Honestly, it was mind blowing, at that moment in time the possibilities felt endless - and I’m someone who looks for reasons to shut down the possibilities. Having a machine do parts of your labor not only frees up time, it frees your mind up from the ‘how’ in terms of achieving an outcome that I’m not skilled enough to achieve by hand. In this aspect, technology is a great crutch for creativity - like I mentioned with Rhino, I use it as a creative cue - however, when something is machine manufactured we can kind of feel the lack of imperfections, which ultimately make something into something more worthy for me.
Analogue photography and handmade furniture seem to experiencing something of a renaissance (or that could just be the algorithm serving me up exactly what I want, in which case: damn). Even in the deeply technological world of rendering, we’re now seeing the imperfections creep in to bring in some humanity: now you’ll see beds unmade, clothes on the floor or toys scattered across the living room - that didn’t feel like the case 5 years ago.
So I don’t see the handmade, more traditional outputs slowing down but neither do I see the technological advances putting the brakes on either. Donald Judd went from designing and making art in lumber that was available to him, to then extruding aluminium with one of the world leading manufacturers in that field - I definitely know what I’m attracted to more, but all are worthy pieces of art in my eyes. I shoot my photographs in analogue, but I edit them digitally. If we can marry the technological aspects into art and objects that were made with more traditional techniques, then hopefully it’s a means to make all of this more accessible.