Q&A: Photographer Todd Selby is "Voyeuristic," "Nosy," and "Curious"—and That's a Good Thing

The man who documents the living spaces of some of the biggest creative talents of our time reveals the most expressive room in a person's home, his own "boring" apartment, and his prized, butt-shaped possession.

Photo by Mark Seliger, courtesy of The Talks.


Photo by Mark Seliger, courtesy of The Talks.

On the heels of his recent book The Fashionable Selby, which takes readers behind the scenes of design houses big and small, photographer Todd Selby released a video that explores the world of cult Japanese leather studio Blackmeans. The only thing more interesting than the people he profiles is his approach to each house call or studio visit. Read on to learn more about the man and the way he selects his subjects.

Mr. Selby, your website The Selby gives an inside look on how creative people of all kinds live. How much of a voyeur is in every one of us?

I think it's a basic human instinct to be voyeuristic or to be nosy or to be curious. I think those are all shades of the same instinct. And that's definitely something that plays into what I do. I think that curiosity is human nature.

What part of a house says the most about a person?

It's hard to generalize, but I think it's often the living room, because that's where you do your entertaining. It's kind of what you're presenting to your guests. But it always depends on the person. Sometimes it's their closet, sometimes it's their office or their atelier.

I sometimes feel that a person's living room is like their Facebook page. They only show you what they want to show you.

That's true, too.

When you visit somebody's home where do you start? Does the person have to interest you? And how much do you know before you get there?

It's about the people, the place, what they do—the whole thing interests me. I always research everything before I go in. I don't just come in and say, "Oh, whoops. What's this?" I make sure that everything makes sense and works for what I do. Usually I've been there or I've seen photos.

The photos always seem very personal and open. Do you usually go by yourself?

I would say that 95% of the time I go by myself. I direct commercials and do ads with big crews, so to me it's refreshing to be working by myself. And it's a much different atmosphere for the subject. They feel less stressed out. So it's a better way to do it.

Four years ago, you said your apartment isn't interesting enough to be on your website. Has that changed over the years?

I've moved since then, but I guess at the end of the day what I do is very personal and it still has a root as a personal project. I know a lot of people look at it and I did the books and stuff, but if something doesn't interest me then I don't do it. So I never wake up in the morning and think, "I'm going to take pictures of my house!" I really have to have a reason. If it were related to a project maybe...but it has never interested me.

Do you ever get ideas for your own place from things that you photograph at other people's houses?

I used to be more of a collector before I started The Selby. I used to go to flea markets every weekend. I still do and I still have this collector's impulse, but working on my website has somehow cured me of that. I see so many things and so much stuff. It's all a bit overwhelming. I love stuff, but I'm happy to see it at other people's houses now. I very, very rarely think, "Oh that's so cool, I want that for my house!" I'm kind of over that now.

You've never seen something at somebody's house and wanted it bad enough to go buy one for yourself?

Well, one thing that I do love and that I did see at someone's house and I bought was a Coco de Mer, which is a coconut from the Seychelles Islands. It's shaped like a butt. I really love that.

Read more of The Talks with Todd Selby—plus listen to the recorded conversation in full.

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Also on The Talks:

Julian Schnabel: I Never Thought of Art as a Career

Sam Riley: I Can Be as Horrible as I Like

Agyness Deyn: I've Mellowed Out

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