Photographer E. Brady Robinson's work is likely a known quantity if you travel within the DC art, gallery, or museum scenes, and it serves as an incredible access point to anyone who might be looking to get familiar. Her book ART DESKS was published last year, and features a look at, well, ART DESKS – most of them in DC, and including those of Pink Line Project's Philippa Hughes, photographer Muriel Hasbun, and a slew of other well-known art worlders. Represented by Addison Ripley Fine Art in Washington, DC and Amstel Gallery in NYC and Amsterdam, in real life Robinson is as thoughtful and insightful as her interview answers suggest – we're thrilled to feature her perspective in the context of the A Creative DC project at large. And yay! There's ~ bonus material ~ from her interview mailing out as part of today's "portrait" themed newsletter (subscribe here).
"This project started in 2011 in Washington, DC when Cultural DC commissioned headshots for an annual report. At the time, art director Emma Fisher said “have at it – photograph anything you want.” During the assignment, I was waiting for the staff to arrive for a group photo and I took a photograph of Karyn Miller’s desk at Flashpoint Gallery. At this time I had the “a-ha” moment and realization of desk as portrait. After the assignment, I knew I wanted to photograph the art world one desk at a time.
"Why artists’ desks? Well – these are my heroes, people I admire and respect. I want to see what they’re up to, what their workspace looks like, give a voyeuristic view and inside look of “where the magic happens.” These are my people, my community."
I got started immediately. I met with Philippa Hughes at the headquarters of Pink Line Project. We sat down and made a list of Art Desk contenders in DC. Later, I went home and started emailing invites. And within 24 hours started to receive answers of YES in my inbox. One of the first people to say yes was Anne Collins Goodyear at the NPG and Andy Grundberg from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. From there, it was a domino affect. One yes lead to another. The project was 3 years in the making. My personal edit was 250 final images from 3,000 then I called back up. Nate Gran and Jordan Swartz from Empty Stretch helped edit down the final sequence. Ursula Damm was the book designer. The book is published by Daylight Books with text by Andy Grundberg and distributed by ARTBOOK D.A.P.
I divide my time between personal projects, editorial work and portrait commissions. Typical week depends if I’m on deadline. If I’m on assignment I’m shooting, editing and delivering photographs to clients. Recently I shot the Cherry Blossoms for Domino Magazine. My weekend included two trips to the tidal basin at sunrise and sunset during the peak. I’m also busy with portrait commissions. Recent clients include: Congressman Xavier Becerra, whitehot magazine, Quinn Evans Architects and Founding Farmers Tysons Corner.
Being self-employed, I am required to reach out to photo editors and potential clients to pitch new ideas and generate new business. Not having a paycheck is scary, but I love what I’m doing and do my best to maintain the conviction and dedication to take my photography practice to the max, both in the fine art and commercial world. Networking and being a part of the art community is also important which includes supporting other artists, attending events and frequenting galleries and museums in DC.
My day starts early with a quick check in on social media over coffee. I work from home and enjoy working in the morning while it’s quiet...Staying healthy and active is important. I balance work with yoga and currently I’m on a kale juice kick.
"If I’m not on assignment, I’m hustling baby. 'You don’t work, you don’t eat' – from Hit da Pavement, 7 days of Funk with Snoopzilla"
I also travel a lot for work and the book. Recently, I was in NYC for a book signing hosted by Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art at Site 109 in LES during AIPAD. Sounds glamorous, but I took the Bolt Bus to NYC. I’ve been up and down the East Coast for book signings. A lot of time is spent on logistics, booking travel and promoting events to drive traffic.
In the past year, I’ve had book signings at Photoville in Brooklyn, the Decatur Book Festival with Atlanta Celebrates Photography, Upshur Street Books, Addison Ripley Fine Art during FotoWeekDC 2014, The Sagamore Art Hotel with SNAP! Miami and most recently in NYC. I’m headed down to Atlanta [this] weekend. Fall Line Press is hosting a book signing for Art Desks with photographer Kathleen Robbins on May 9th in Atlanta.
"My Mom gave me a camera when I was really young. We used to take long drives in the countryside and photograph together. That’s how it all started. And I still love photographing out of the window of cars."
I am in LOVE with this city. I love DC as a place, the city, the architecture, the museums, the neighborhoods, the artists, the creative economy. DC has a good work ethic. The city is international. It’s not as overwhelming as NYC but comes with the perks and amenities of a large metropolis, yet has a chill vibe. DC is rich in arts and culture and has a lot to offer. And, it’s an easy drive out to the country...My parents live in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. I miss the mountains and need space. National Airport is just a hop, skip and a jump across the river. I also love the bike trails and parks.
I’ve lived in NoMa for nearly 5 years with my husband, music producer Gustavo Naranjo (aka G-flux)...We love hearing live music and frequent Tropicalia and other live music events. Jazz in the Garden is my personal favorite in the summer. My studio is located in the Loree Grand on K. Street. I love living in Northeast, it’s quiet and near the action on H. Street. There’s so much going on in NoMa. I love living across the street from Indigo, being able to walk to Yoga District on H Street and biking to H Street and walking to the Mall. We’ve lived in DC on and off for 15 years. Prior neighborhoods include Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle...Time spent in other cities include Baltimore, Detroit, Aspen, Colorado, Cortona, Italy, Hyeres France, Playa del Carmen, Mexico and Orlando, Florida. What a combo, right?
"I went to undergrad at the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, MD. Baltimore was a great place to be an artist and I’ll always value my time at MICA in the photography department."
DC is crazy expensive. I wish developers would create more opportunities for affordable live/work space for artists. I wish real estate was affordable and attainable for artists to actually invest in property and STAY in DC. I wish DC would provide space to keep and retain artists, art galleries and art dealers. It would be a win-win. Of course, several programs exist. Look at the partnership of CulturalDC and Bozzuto (Mather Studios, Loree Grand, the Arts Walk in Brookland). These are all great programs, but more need to exist to keep our artists in DC."
I love your blog - interviews (some quickies, some more in depth) with your portrait subjects. What's your strategy, if any, for making people feel comfortable and secure in front of your lens?
Music helps. I ask my subjects for their favorite playlists on Spotify. I also believe in creating a sense of play and humor to have fun on set. If it’s not fun, what’s the point. Right?
There’s a certain energy that happens between photographer and subject. It’s magic. You just have to create the right ingredients, have fun and wait for the magic to happen. Of course, all photography is fiction. We can only know the façade and what a person puts forth to the outside world. But, having fun and creating a sense of play helps break the façade.
Currently, I shoot with a Canon 5d Mark II and play with mixing natural light with my Speedlite 600 EX-RT. I love using the flash to give things an extra pop. I owe my ability to play with the flash to my mentor, photographer Michael E. Northrup. He is the king of flash. I shoot camera RAW and use Lightroom for post-production. Honestly, I’m not much of a techie. Usually it takes me a few minutes to dial in the light while on a shoot. But, from there, I wing it and go for it. I also shoot a lot with my iPhone.
Advice to anyone looking to follow a career path similar to yours?
Yes, don’t bother with grad school unless you want a teaching career. And, if you want a teaching career, it is a very long road to a full time position and we should have coffee. My advice, get an MBA vs. an MFA degree and minor in marketing for your art career. You’ll need it. Take a financial planning class. Get organized. Take advantage of internships during undergraduate school. Find good mentors. And, in lieu of art school, go for an artist residency. Save your money that you would spend on grad school and TRAVEL. Live your life to the fullest. Take risks. Don’t be afraid. Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done. When there’s a will, there’s a way. Find a way to make it happen. There are no saviors in the world. YOU are it. Write down your goals and create an action plan. No pity parties. Get to it. Figure it out.
Last, but not least. Be a good friend. Don’t hang out with haters. Support other artists. Support your local art community. And, be a nice person.
all photos courtesy E. Brady Robinson; Art Desk book imagery by Kaitlin Jensco.