Photo by Don Chadwick, 1992
This is a text written after unpacking Don's photo archive with him, and discovering the wealth of images that represent an important missing chapter in American Design History. We are working on a forthcoming publication of this work.
On Don Chadwick’s Photography
Published in Metropolis Magazine, January 2017
Throughout his career, industrial designer Don Chadwick has taken photographs in Los Angeles—of structures in rail yards, the destruction caused by the 1961 Bel Air Fire and the 1992 Rodney King riots, storefronts, markets in parking lots—and used the camera to refine his eye and shape his approach to design. Chadwick’s photos capture the vivid textures of a city that has built its identity on the rubble of its own hasty and sometimes painful growth. George Nelson’s photographs of junkyards and Charles Eames’s snapshots of the circus (Chadwick is a fan of both) are similar bodies of research, but Chadwick’s America is a darker place, characterized by the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, increased racial tensions, cheaper building materials, and a widening income gap. From behind the camera, Chadwick has studied the dichotomy between things that are at once beautiful but disturbing and the resulting contradictions and tensions. As a designer he has conjured this tension by allowing technical elements—informed by racing bikes, engine components, and industrial tools—to remain raw and visible on his carefully proportioned chairs. Like his photos, Chadwick’s furniture keeps our attention taut between the beautiful and the disturbing and expands our notions of both.