Luxury sometimes does this, James concedes, along with good brands where there’s a ‘desire not to do damage, to be long-lasting, authentic, and above all, to do good and work with good people’. But on the whole brands still have a long way to go to achieve these ends. In contrast, James himself has already got there, or at least has long embarked on a journey of personal change and challenge where these concepts and principles matter.
And why not? He’s married, after all, to author and Harvard divinity graduate Julia Ogilvy, so debate, reflection and the need to consider things on a much deeper, more spiritual and poetic level are daily occurrences at the breakfast table, not to mention talk of art – James studied the history of art at St Andrews, while Flora his daughter, can out-talk even an Irishman like myself on any or all things contemporary or art related.
So, no surprises, then, when James told me in our interview that since his Luxury Briefing days, he has become a landscape designer, and that this in turn led him into the world of landscape photography where those words learned from his luxury years – the authentic, the spiritual, the artistic, the purposeful, the beautiful and the poetic took on an entirely new and vital resonance.
Indeed, to paraphrase Luis Barragán, the Mexican architect-artist whose houses and gardens James and myself would happily run away with, he doesn’t really distinguish between architecture, landscape, gardening or photography, but prefers to mix and merge each, so that one discipline melts mystically and tranquilly into the other.
His latest work, on show at the Lumitrix Gallery aptly reflects these values. The title, Thin Places, refers to those real or notional points in geography or time that Scottish and Irish Celts like James and myself understand and respond to as sacred places in the landscape – holy wells, pilgrim islands, mist-ridden valleys, stretches of coastline – where the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds are so thin and so brittle that we can pass easily and swiftly from one to the other.
In some ways James sees this as a metaphor for his career, but also as a pathway we can all follow, when the moment is right, when those veils in the many thin places he has photographed over the years, or designed into being in his new life as a landscape designer, are lifted, and a new kind of light and understanding is allowed to come flooding through.