Robin Broadbent’s still life imagery does not just speak. Rather, it sings and reverberates the essence of its subjects—objects—at the most exquisite levels. Published by Damiani Books, the photographer’s new monograph presents an array of his most abstract imagery to date. Devoid of any brand names or logos, each offering becomes a study purely of form, shape, and color. Ahead of his book signing this evening, Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at Dashwood Books in NYC, Document sits down with the artist and contributor to discuss the process of animating the inanimate, as well as the creation of an entirely new object: his book.
Michael Quinn—What moved you to publish ”The Photographic Work of Robin Broadbent”?
Robin Broadbent—Books are magical—[they’re] one of the great things in life. There is something special about turning a page and discovering what is next. Since moving to New York, I’ve been lucky enough to do some strong editorial stories for magazines where I’ve had a lot of freedom to explore my picture-taking using a lot of abstract imagery. I wanted to explore putting these images together.
Michael—Can you describe your editing process?
Robin—It was hard! I was very happy to be working with Doug Lloyd on the book design. He is great, and that really pushed me to edit and elevated my desire to do something special and worthwhile. Knowing that I wanted to use images that had no products or brand names made the initial editing process much easier. A book is like making a great album—although I have no musical ability, I still love vinyl. You want great tracks, but it has to work as a complete piece. It wasn’t a case of just making a book of “best hits.” I did a lot of printing of small reference images and book dummies. You need to live with a sequence for a while and keep turning the pages to really see how it works and where the weak points are and what you should change.
Michael—How has your relationship with light and shadow been portrayed in this body of work?
Robin—A lot of my images have black, white, or gray. I like to keep the backgrounds simple and give the object and shapes a chance to breathe without interference. I certainly have a lot of darks and under-lit imagery in my life. I seem to be drawn to that world, so everything had to be about the objects and the light. It was also important to have a sequence where dark, monochromatic images were a general theme, but then you have these small bursts of color throughout. The color images are like small islands within the sea.
Once you start to question what it is, you lose the strength of an abstracted image.
Michael—The book opens with a passage by Frederic Tuten. How has Tuten’s work inspired your photography?
Robin—I was introduced to Frederic and was aware that he had a huge history of art writing for magazines and other artists’ books. He also grew up in New York when a lot of the great art was being done in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and was part of that crowd. It was important for me to have a short story to go with the images and not a critical piece. The imagery is very abstract and I wanted to have a piece of writing that helped take the abstraction to a different place. I wanted the viewer to create their own worlds within the imagery. When abstracting, it’s not about trying to work out what the object is, or where it comes from. It really is just about the line and the material and the texture. Once you start to question what it is, you lose the strength of an abstracted image. It’s not meant to be a game; I wanted the story to help the viewer create their own worlds of shape and form from the pictures.
Michael—In a world where moving imagery seems to be more and more important, how does the still photograph continue to compel viewers?
In many ways, I think the fact that we have more and more moving imagery makes the still image stronger. There’s something about looking at a still image. You can rest and appreciate the subtleties of line and composition, which you can’t really do with a moving image.
The “Photographic Work of Robin Broadbent” is available for pre-order online now.