Apple packaging like you’ve never seen it before

By Harriet Lloyd-Smith

Clean lines, whiter-than-white elegance and direct, no-fuss ultra-minimalism. These are the qualities that give Apple its unmistakable Apple-ness.

But Apple’s product packaging, though the source of less limelight, seems to involve almost as much artistic consideration as the device it shrouds. Every inch is considered: superfluity is a sin, and simplicity provides ecstasy in a messy world. 

In photographer Johann Clausen’s new personal project, it’s Apple’s packaging, not its products, that have been given the floor. The series came about, as many interesting things do, by accident. ‘The inner part of the packaging of my AirPods was flying around the studio and looked kind of interesting. So I held it in front of the camera and started playing around with it,’ he says. 

‘They are well-engineered and well-designed white cardboard objects which are negative shapes of the objects they contain’

Liberated from their function to conceal, protect and generate anticipation, the packaging becomes sculptural, exaggerated and abstracted, taking on a life of its own. ‘You don’t usually pay attention to the packaging: it’s hardly noticeable when you’re excited about your new product’, explains Clausen, who has brought his delicate and daring approach to collaborations with the likes of BMW, Cartier, Hermès and Wallpaper*. ‘They are well-engineered and well-designed white cardboard objects which are negative shapes of the objects they contain. These supposedly unimportant objects convey the “spirit” of the Apple products that have taken so much importance in many of our lives. They speak the same visual language and give off a familiar, comforting aura.’ 

Here, Apple’s product packaging is far more than the sum of its rapidly-discarded parts. It’s as much about what’s absent as what’s present. Clausen’s series leaves much to the imagination: the AirPods casing is straightforward to spot, the rest is an intriguing game of deduction – familiar shapes become abstracted, sensual and glowing in an aura that leaves us wondering just how familiar we are with the objects so ubiquitous in everyday life.  

Collaborating with an art director friend, the photographer worked with a view camera and digital sensor for the series. ‘The set-up is designed to bring out details of textures while creating distortion-free reproductions of the objects. A soft studio light was used to sublimate the relief and emphasise the greyscale,’ he says. Here, negative forms are given life; positive forms are merely suggested. ‘I also backlit the packaging to heighten the objects’ sacred symbolism, making it almost see-through like ancient alabaster statues or pots.’

For Clausen, creating the series became almost meditative. ‘We were surrounded by all the different white objects resembling each other,’ he says. ‘After a while, we started to forget the scale of the objects and the small packages suddenly became spacious and imposing. At this point, it felt like photographing utopian architectural models rather than just packaging.’ §