Once a design and fine art painting student, photographer David Robin began to explore the medium of photography as another outlet to convey emotion and envelop the purest form of objects through portraiture. Filled with wisdom on human life, archival methods, lighting and the natural world around him, Robin found that photography lent itself well to the translation of idea to image, and was a better match for his stylistic vision.
Robin attended Brooks Institute when he realized that in order to pursue photography as a career, a technical background is imperative: “You need to train yourself to see, understand and control light and it’s relationship to the medium. All the latest and greatest advancements in photography are useless without this knowledge.”
With a new technical grasp on photography, Robin moved to LA and then NY to assist top photographers, but never tied himself down to one person; he wanted to learn different techniques and stylistic tools from each of the photographers he encountered.
“I assisted in LA for a year and in New York for a year. I knew I wanted to photograph people but that it was important to assist all kinds of photographers. Once you set up your own studio … you’re in a vacuum. No one is going to show you the ropes. It’s better to get production experience watching others than experimenting for the first time with your own clients. Part of being a successful photographer is having the experience to anticipate where the problem areas may occur on a shoot and being prepared with solutions based on that experience.”
From there, Robin “went to work for a major department store setting up their in-house fashion studio. It was an intense experience.” This is where he learned the value of lighting. Thereafter, he built a 4,000 sq foot daylight studio in San Francisco.
Printing for Irving Penn gave Robin interest in taking the reins and developing his own style. Now known for his black and white portraits, David Robin has always been interested in the way a photograph communicates. Unlike color photography, where the focus can be on how vibrant the colors of the image are and the semiotics of those colors, black and white photos are communicative in lighting, contrast and shadows. “I find the interplay of the positive and the negative fascinating,” Robin says. “I believe an image is reduced to its purest compositional form in black and white. To light a black-and-white photograph well is truly an art. You have to love light and love composition.”
The same goes for his “Stealing Fire” project, which detailed the lives of the scientists of Los Alamos who worked on the Manhattan Project and had been secretly testing the atom bomb in 1943 in an exclusive site on the Pajarito Plateau in Northern New Mexico. In black and white, portraits were taken of five scientists, detailing their secret work and the impact of living life “on the hill.” The monochromatic hue and the deep context of the images brought to life a story that had been otherwise forgotten.
His personal projects allow him to digress from client visions and work on his own personal creative:
“One night I was watching a 20-20 broadcast and they did a story on the Romanian asylums that had just been discovered [after the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu]. The story touched a nerve because of my father’s Romanian background and I knew that this was something I needed to document. So I called the reporter who wrote the story, and since no Western photojournalist had been in there yet, I put together a plan to do a shoot.
I committed to a one-man show of my Romanian Images at the Ansel Adams Center in San Francisco –before I even had any images, before I had even boarded the plane. But I find that’s the way I create: Light a fire under my ass, give myself an impossible task to do, and it works. In the end the show was a success both in San Francisco and New York.
A few years later I went to East Africa to do a story on the Doctors Without Borders. I had this unique opportunity to live with the people of a Massai village for a month. Those images are some of my favorite because they go to the essence of why I became a photographer.”
David Robin’s images can be seen in everything from CD packaging and advertising to fine art galleries.
“I believe in shooting constantly for myself while pushing the envelope. I also ask a lot of questions. Constant experimentation coupled with a healthy dose of humbleness and failure is the only way to really grow as an artist and craftsperson…I am never satisfied with my work. I always feel I can do better.”
Come see David Robin speak at Shoot NYC, October 25-26 at the Terminal Building. Shoot NYC is an exciting and informative professional photographic forum based on the premise of sharing knowledge through educational seminars from top industry professionals and hands-on demonstrations of the latest photographic technology on the market today. Top industry professionals will host workshops and hands-on seminars in an array of subjects, whether you’re interested in fashion, portraiture, commercial, stock or repro. For more information, click here.
David Robin – Sponsored by Santa Fe Photographic Workshops
Lighting Dramatic Portraits
Thursday, October 25
Award-winning portrait and beauty photographer David Robin, whose clients have included Levi Strauss & Co., Gap, Sony, Coca-Cola, American Express, BMG, Blue Note, and PolyGram Records, explains and demonstrates his techniques for achieving meaningful portraits, covering the gamut of editorial, beauty, advertising, and journalism. In this workshop, David aims to briefly decode the mysteries ofportraiture and review techniques, through live demonstration, to help participants consider their own unique voice and style.