I’m interested in knowing more about your photographic background. How did you become interested in photography and did you formally study it?
I started photographing with a Kodak Instamatic camera when I was ten years old. My only subject was my cat, Whitey. It was not until college that I got a 35mm SLR camera and set off on a documentary path in photography. An important part of my motivation was and is to capture what would change or what I would lose. I received an MFA in Photography from Pratt Institute, New York.
You mention that you are an only child, and so is Amelia, your daughter. How do you think this influenced your work (both projects you did prior to Amelia’s birth and then the ones with her)?
This is so personal. Being an only child can be lonely for some, and it was for me. My life and animals are integrated. I am obsessed with animals, and I always have been. Animals are my support system, a necessity. I have a very active fantasy life - photography allows me to change my life, go to places and live out my fantasies.
What excites you about photography?
The act of photography and the post photography production are quite different. What excites me is the experience photography allows me to have. The images themselves sometimes feel quite foreign and unreal.
With Amelia growing up, how do you think her relationship to the camera evolves? Can you describe your collaboration with her?
Amelia’s role in the photos has changed drastically with her maturing and her experience. Amelia’s patience with me has expand with her age. She makes great suggestions and has grown to save many a situation. After all, the animals are reacting to her, not me. Amelia was 3-1/2 and 4-1/2 when I started to photograph her – there was a gap because of my mother and mother in law’s illnesses and deaths. Amelia is more grown up now. I made a deal with Amelia a couple of years ago, that I would only photograph her with animals. Photographing her without animals was boring. Amelia gets the experience of being with an animal from the photos and contributes to our project by helping to plan concepts and approaches, including color palettes. I am grateful for Amelia’s talents. Amelia is an extraordinary person who does not realize she is. She can be very shy with people, but amazingly confident with animals and not self conscious. The owner of the kangaroo in my photographs works with many children and told me some children just have an aura that animals are comfortable with. Amelia has a way with animals, a different way than I do. I work at my relationship with animals, Amelia is more relaxed.
If you could photograph anything anywhere, what would you choose?
Good question - I would travel to Africa and Thailand, I am trying to go to England and back to France this summer.
You’ve photographed a lot of animals in a lot of different projects. What was your worst experience when it comes to photographing animals?
In my older work, the primates project was the most challenging but the stray dogs (packs) also broke my heart. In the Amelia project I prefer to tell our best experiences; Madee the gibbon, Shiba the elephant and Mouse the kangaroo.
What do you look for in an image?
I look for a relationship and communication between Amelia and the animal. My goal is to portray the animal as an individual, an equal of sorts. I look for a color palette and the quality of the light. At this point I am fantasy driven.
You also teach at William Paterson University. What is the advice you give most often to your students?
I have short sayings: The most important ones are “Photograph what you care about!”, “No light, no picture.” These sayings I was taught in graduate school. The other sayings I would have to tell you in person.
What was the best thing that happened to you, thanks to photography?
I have not been asked this before. Okay, since Amelia is sitting next to me, I asked her that question and she said she got to meet Madee. Madee is a gibbon and has inspired Amelia to study gibbons in particular. Amelia had wanted to be a primatologist before. For me my best experiences was holding a baby gorilla and sharing my photographic experiences in photography with my daughter. Photography and my graduate teacher from Pratt Institute, Arthur Freed, gave me a path in life. I had been on my own at 19 and was almost homeless when Arthur arranged for me to leave New Jersey and enter the graduate department at Pratt Insititute.
Robin is represented by M+B.