Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Conversation with Lisa M. Robinson

I first came across Lisa M. Robinson's work when I was a junior in college and watched an unbelievable landscape of snow being printed on a large format inkjet printer. The landscapes looked so untouched and it was the type of fresh snow any child would love to jump into. Lisa was on a residency at Light Work, fortunately for me, and I had a chance to get familiar with her series of work titled "Snowbound."

Wish & Erasure ©Lisa M. Robinson

NP: Tell us a little about yourself.

LR: I was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia. I received my BA in English from Columbia University, then taught for four years in the New Orleans public schools as a Teach for America corps member. While my entry into photography seemed a bit roundabout at the time, it now makes perfect sense. My experiences and interests have helped me develop my sense of self in the world; photography is the perfect extension of that for me.

NP: How did you discover photography?

LR: I took my first photography class when I was in high school. I loved it, but it was one of many loves. Painting and drawing were my primary sources of creative expression. I never studied these disciplines formally, but I believe they deeply inform my photography. Though I was introduced to photography as a teenager, it was not until many years later, in 1996, that I picked up my Olympus camera again. I had been living in Argentina for the year, and realized several weeks before leaving that I had not made a single photograph during the time that I had been there. I shot what I thought at the time was a lot of film- six rolls of black and white Tri-X. All I knew upon returning to the states was that I wanted to process and print those images. I returned to Savannah, Georgia, my hometown, and enrolled in several classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design in order to use their darkrooms. And I guess I fell in love with the medium in a deep way. I received my MFA in Photography from SCAD in 1999.

Solo & Trace ©Lisa M. Robinson

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

LR: Inspiration comes from many sources- books, paintings, film, music, conversations with people, walks through nature. I think about ideas and possibilities all the time. I read and write a great deal as I am working on a photographic project, precisely so that when I go out into the world with a camera, my conscious mind can work subconsciously as I respond to what I see in front of me. I believe I see the world through this internal veil, that is both consciously created and mysteriously manifested.

NP: How did this project come about?

LR: “Snowbound” has been a five-year project. I moved to New York in 2001, just before 9/11. That first year in New York was one of great transition for me, in which I struggled with the value of what I did as a photographer. My most recent body of work, a series made in Argentina (I returned on a Fulbright in 1999), seemed unimportant and deflated in the context of our lives. It took me a long time to feel comfortable making images, for I wrestled with the significance of such a seemingly indulgent act.

In the winter of 2002, I decided to take a road trip to Ohio. It was the holiday season, that timeless time between Christmas and New Year’s, when most people congregate with friends and family. I think I was hoping to rediscover the sense of communion I had always felt when making images… it had been so long since I had experienced that joy. Somewhere along a highway in Pennsylvania, I encountered snow. And immediately, I felt the rush of something new, something I had never quite seen before, or at least not in this way. It was just so beautiful… no other word could quite capture it for me. But it was not a beauty of nature that I was drawn to… trees and mountains and sky. I was drawn to our very human world. I made the same kinds of pictures I’ve always made, depicting a human presence even in the absence of humans. I was in a constant state of awe… I remember simply gasping in wonder. For the first time in a very long time, I was experiencing something pure and beautiful in the world, something very new and hopeful.

Emergence & Valhalla ©Lisa M. Robinson

NP: Do you have any advice for emerging or young photographers/artists out there about promoting yourself as an artist? How do you go about going after a new project after the previous project is "done" (Where do you find the drive)?

LR: I think the best advice I might offer to a young photographer/artist is to set the highest possible standards for yourself that you can, and expect the work to rise to that level. While it is certainly important to promote oneself and one’s work, it is much easier to do so when you really believe in the value of that work. For myself, the real gift of being an artist is the creative process, so being able to return to that place is a pleasure. The challenge is to become comfortable once again in NOT knowing what you may be exploring, for that may feel like new and uncomfortable territory after your previous work. Trust (that you are being guided in the right directions) and discipline (in your work ethic) are good companions to foster as you embark on the next project.

NP: What's next (in terms of future projects, shows, residencies, books)?

LR: I’m very much in the beginning stages of several new projects. This fall, I will be on a residency in Maine. No snow, but plenty of atmosphere. I look forward to seeing what unfolds…

NP: Thank you!

To see more of Lisa's work, visit You can also purchase her book, "Snowbound" from Photoeye or Light Work. A limited edition, signed print of Wish, featured on the cover of Lisa’s book, is available through Light Work’s Fine Print Program too.

Lisa is represented by Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, NY,, and the Etherton Gallery in Tucson, AZ,

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