Stitched data design for the New York Times supplement cover by Giorgia Lupi

What archives bring to the creative process

Information designer Giorgia Lupi and photographer Tom Wood explain the creative, practical and personal value of their archives

For thousands of years, humans have been constructing and storing records. Creating, categorising, maintaining and revisiting documents and materials has become a part of human nature, and this intuition is a gift that keeps on giving as far as museums, libraries and other collections go.

But what can the individual creator glean from their own archive? We’ve talked to photographer Tom Wood and designer Giorgia Lupi about how archiving ties into their practices, and how they present them to the world.

“In the beginning, you kind of think you can keep it in your head,” says Wood. The photographer was born in Ireland, but became synonymous with Merseyside, and then settled in north Wales. When he started taking pictures in the early 70s, he didn’t bother with contact sheets. Now, he has accumulated countless scans (“believe me, millions”) and enough negatives to fill a ten-foot tall cupboard to the rafters. His physical archive is meant to be in the attic at home, “but I’ve basically taken over the whole of the house, with the kids, their rooms and so on are full up with stuff as well. And all the other rooms. So yeah, three quarters of the house is kind of my archive, my studio, my workspaces.”

Creating and maintaining the order of his work has always been a family affair, from his children numbering 6×4 prints back in the 1980s to his wife who keeps an eye on Wood’s popular Instagram account, which is run by RRB Photo Books. He has hopes that members of his family will tackle his 700+ hours of video footage, and his son Ciarán was also instrumental in getting his newly launched digital archive over the line.

After nearly 50 years in the game, well into the era of artist websites, why put everything online now? “It was a sense of giving in,” he admits. He once told a curator about his reluctance to have a website. “He said, ‘no one is ever going to take you seriously if you don’t have a website’. I thought that was good!” he laughs. “It’s a kind of creativity in the chaos for me, that’s the way it worked. I didn’t want to spoil that.”

Homepage of Tom Wood's archive website, featuring a photograph of couples kissing in a bar
Top: Giorgia Lupi’s cover for the New York Times’ At Home supplement; Above: Tom Wood’s website by Studio Thomas and James Homer