Interview by Jeffrey Felner
As I have previously stated countless times, the internet is just this phenomenon that has literally changed my life. Meeting Robin Broadbent took a far more circuitous route than most due to how exactly we found each other. Before I ever knew of him by name, I was in love with his work; it positively fascinated me, it intrigued me and it was somewhat reminiscent of Penn’s still life work as well as that of Mocafico.
With that said, his latest book (The Photographic Work of Robin Broadbent) arrived at my door for reviewing purposes for The New York Journal of Books (www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/robin-broadbent) and then suddenly I was enamored with the man and his oeuvre. Before even reading the book I did some “googling” and the more I read, the more I saw, the deeper I was drawn into his sway. He unique vision has been utilized and recognized by some of the most notable and prestigious international brands such as Cartier, Bottega Veneta, Rolex, Prada and Dior Haute Joallier… and that’s just a sampling of his commercial side.
His fascination with what we might see as everyday objects/sights is something that transforms the common into the extremely uncommon by turning them into works of art; it is a sort of hyper-realism or reality on steroids. It’s enormously gratifying to me that we have a friendship these days and even more so that I am able to comprehend his mindset! Personally I am a fan of more is better and yet Robin’s Spartan “M.O.” of less is more is overwhelming in its content while his skill and his vision are without equal.
Unquestionably I urge you to research for yourself and to venture into this man’s world and see how he just does what he does. He is a stand-alone artist especially in these days of me too advertising when most ads are interchangeable and me too fashion photography when anyone who has ever held a camera thinks they are a photographer…. Unequivocally I can say THEY ARE NOT and Robin Broadbent shows us why!
Jeffrey Felner: Can you offer a bit of background as to how you “arrived” at your present state professionally?
Robin Broadbent: Through a lot of hard work, thinking and passion!
My plan was to become a doctor and ideally a surgeon. Sadly, that didn’t happen but I discovered a love of photography in a very amateur way. I was given a camera as a gift for my 18th birthday. I studied no fine art, painting or drawing while at school but headed off to a local art school on the whim of wanting to be a photographer. I had no idea what I was doing but I thought photography could be a good choice for me. I was inspired and intrigued by the still life advertising being used by cigarette companies – there were some ground-breaking campaigns shot for Benson and Hedges and Silk Cut in the UK; they were surreal and had strong graphic forms. While they didn’t make me want to smoke but with a photographer’s eye they seemed intriguing and of great interest …. again … I had no idea what I was doing but as luck would have it I got my first job working/assisting an American photographer , Robert Golden, who was a primo still life/studio photographer.
After leaving art school, I had learned to take pictures in a studio but I had no knowledge of art or painting or the history of photography; the school seemed to have not included those facets in my education. Robert Golden was fantastic since he felt his role was as a mentor me and turn me into a great photographer. Obviously his plan worked because I had huge respect for him and that pressed me to work incredibly hard under his watchful eye. He introduced me to painters, art, and photographers. With a combination of his in-depth critiques and his encouragement I learned huge amounts about how to see, how to light, and how to make images. Obviously by this time I had begun my journey to where I am today.
After my “assistanceship”/apprenticeship was over, his mentoring and support continued as I evolved with my own studio doing still life photography. I worked in London for approximately ten years where I was shooting some major campaigns and magazine work while constantly evolving and learning with a more matured eye. I realized I was leaning more and more towards abstraction; shapes and forms as much as possible where you get a sense of volume and structure in the objects. Lighting and understanding how light and the quality of light could create and define objects in a picture also became a major focus for me.
By 1999, I was feeling frustrated with the still life world in London and was truly questioning my future as a photographer. I desperately wanted to carry on shooting with an 8×10 camera in a studio and to be given time to light and sculpt objects/products. At this stage, I had been following the work of Fabien Baron as creative director of Harper’s Bazaar in the US. I particularly enjoyed the still life/beauty stories shot by Raymond Meier. At that time, W magazine was also very inspiring. And of course one couldn’t ignore the amazing Clinique ads being shot by Irving Penn.
Once I was able to mesh all of the above, I knew that I wanted to explore the possibility of shooting fashion accessories as well as beauty products in as much as they became my building blocks and shapes that I could play with and arrange in abstract forms. They also tended to be made from interesting materials and surfaces, all of which were exciting to light and play with. Armed with these new insights I came to New York to explore and meet people and by the end of 1999, armed with an agent and all the necessary paperwork in order, I became a New Yorker. Since residing here, I’ve continued to obsess over lighting, detail and composition trying to move forward in the way I see image making. I’ve always and continue to do a lot of editorial work for mostly European-based magazines who provide the opportunity to be much freer in the creative process. I’ve always done a lot of black and white work, including two books published in the UK just before I left. With printing and working in black and white, I have learned so much about how one sees the picture including such things as contrast and density and cropping. I also still shoot regularly in black and white for my own personal projects and still entirely on film.
JF: If you could choose any collaborator or collaboration, who or what would it be and why? Also print or internet … which and why?
RB: Alexander McQueen, fashion designer: Lee was truly original and exciting as a fashion designer; all of the accessories (Shaun Leane) he made were sculptural, exciting, interesting and beautiful. It would’ve been a true pleasure to work alongside McQueen as a photographer trying to define and photograph his accessories with his viewpoint about how to photograph; he enjoyed shape, form, material and texture – all of which excite me!
John Pawson, architect: I have a love of the simple, minimal approach to materials, shape and form; in fact, the less the better for me. It would be great to do a study of form and shape based around his materials and architecture. No one does it better than Pawson, and he’s a keen photographer who also understands the skill
All would be print; I like real objects, and to be able to pick up something and feel and hold it as a real piece. In short tangible objects!
JF: If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would they be and why?
RB: David Bowie: simply the most inspiring man in my artistic life plus he seemed like a good guy, and a good conversationalist.
Lazlo Maholy-Nagy: the Bauhaus was always the beginning of my inspiration as a photographer. His photography forced people to see things/photography in a different way
Robert Motherwell: Definitely a favorite painter from my favorite era. If I could travel in time, I would go back to Soho and hang out with all the abstract expressionists and artists of that era. If I had the talent, I would love to be a painter.
Brigitte Bardot: She was an inspiring actress working in France doing interesting films with great directors plus she seems to have a lot of personality…plus she looks good!
Vivienne Westwood: She and her fashion defined a groundbreaking era in London and the world. Again, as I missed the sixties/seventies in with the artists of that time, the punk era is when fashion and everything changed in London, it is another time I would have liked to have been present and have experienced.
Other thoughts – In choosing individuals, would they all get along with each other?! I could also invite Donald Judd, Keith Richards and Sofia Coppola.
JF: Let’s talk about the book, The Photographic Work of Robin Broadbent. Can you tell us what prompted you to do it and what would you say was the most gratifying part and what was the most challenging part of taking on this project?
RB: This is my third book; the first two, as I mentioned, were done back in 1999/2000. They were both black and white books … Minus Sixteen and Marmalade. They were strong in contrast and abstract architectural forms.
In this new book, I wanted to do a larger color book. As said previously, I enjoy line, form and abstraction with the intention of continuously reducing what is in the image. This is very much the kind of work I’ve been shooting editorially in my recent years in New York. It also contains some test editorial ideas which were never published. Books are my real passion; I enjoy the pagination, the not knowing what is coming next, how the sequel works and the surprise of turning to the next page.
I was very lucky in being able to work with Doug Lloyd as a designer on this project; a great designer who was familiar with my thoughts and aesthetics.
The most challenging part was producing a final edit to work and the decision process of what makes the cut and what doesn’t. For me the overall look and feel and weight of a book is very important. This is something I worked very hard to achieve with different coatings, different paper and dust jackets. For me, it was important that the reader didn’t get bored while turning the pages; each image had to look fresher and more exciting than the previous image.
The most satisfying part is that a year after being on press printing it, I still like the book and it achieved my original objective. Obviously there are things I would change about it in hindsight, but I’m still pretty happy about it.
P.S. Wren London … one man show
3rd May – 28th June
Press Preview: 2nd May, 6PM – 9PM // Invite only enquiries©wren.london
Wren London, 39 Featherstone Street, London, EC1Y 8RE