5th Avenue and 65th Street, NYC 1985 © Orville Robertson
Join us for the opening reception of New York Noir, Street Photography by Orville Robertson and curated by Roy Flukinger, Senior Research Curator at the Harry Ransom Center, Austin, TX. Thursday October 6 from 4-8pm – during ArtWalk. The exhibit will be up through November 19. The gallery is located at 207 N. Center St. in downtown Longview, TX and on the web at http://www.tccphotogallery.com (the web-page will be ready by October 6th – maybe sooner.)
We conducted a Skype interview between the photographer and curator to better understand the scope of the work. Here is the interview.
Today we have Orville Robertson, New York photographer and Roy Flukinger, Senior Research Curator of Photography at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin.
My name is Orville Robertson I am a New York City street photographer. I’ve been s street photography for about 33 years or so, and I love what I do. Walking around and only photographing what I find interesting. I usually take anywhere from 5 to 10 shots and then go home.
I shoot very slowly. Like 20 to 25 rolls of film a year slowly. When I first started photographing street I shot a lot more than I do now. Most street photographers take more pictures in a day than I do in a year. I just never felt comfortable doing that. Part of what has kept me fresh is my love for what I dot. The fact that i shoot very deliberately and then quickly take a picture. When I first started photographing I shot as much as I could because I followed what was expected. One day I was introduced to Marcia Sheer, who was a pinhole photographer, and asked to assist her with managing her equipment for outdoor shooting sessions. Her methodical approach and one-hour exposures drove me nuts at first. But it made me understand that if you concentrated and used kind of a large format mentality, where each frame meant something rather than just burning through roll after roll, you would actually get a higher percentage of what I felt were good photographs. You have a lot of street photographers who disagree philosophically, and that is their method that works best for them. I certainly respect that. But if I shot 36 exposures and did not find at least 10 interesting, and perhaps 5 quality, images I would probably cut my throat.
While you may say that you only expose 5 to 10 images on a given journey, it appears that you very prolific. Your slow approach seems to work for you. It is really great to see you post new images on Facebook all the time.
Number one, I love the title, New York Noir. I think it is very onomatopoeic. It’s got a wonderful ring to it and sounds like the images look.
Number two is the fact that I have seen work by lots of night photography by other photographers. I think most of them have said that it has forced them to come to terms with things like lighting and structures which is addressed differently from the daytime work. But what was interesting to me was that you said it forced you to become a better daytime photographer too. Which I think is quite remarkable. Quite nice and the evidence is clearly there. With night photography, of course what is obvious is the light is entirely different. The light is more directed by other sources not by a general overall sunshine, and with that you have to compensate and take that advantage. And I think that is one of the things that you sir do particularly well. Because you are aware of what’s going on there and you still have that great fascination with the street. Not just for it’s overall theatrical look and broad face , but to also come in close and see things , see in details, see things structurally that were there that contribute to each photograph’s power. That power lies within the body of work and in I think it will be evident in the show that you can deal with it on many different levels at once.
What fascinates me is the fact that one picture can step back and present a broad sort of documentary awareness of the street and everything in it, while the next one can be up close and possess a vibrant intensity. It can be a character study; it can take advantage of the blur of the figure . It can take advantage of the out of focus figure . I can give us fascinating juxtaposition because of what is going in front and what is going on way back of you – and behind you – and it all ties together in a complex structure. And I love that sort of work when it is done well by a photographer like Orville, either during the day or at night. You happen to do it eloquently . And you address that the challenge even more in the nightime. Plus the fact that your compositions are always right on and they embody such fascinating structures in and of themselves. That complexity on the one hand looks very simple but on the other hand grows very fascinating the more you dig into and see it. I love the pure experience of looking at your work.
Finally, I should note that the intuition you follow throughout your career remains very sound and you continually come up with the imagery that supports that intuition and invigorates the feeling that lies behind it very much. Orville’s imagery is deeply felt, and always has been. Many photographers look at the street and can find something that is interesting or ironic or cute. But you go further. You get in there and make us feel what it is like to pound the pavement and feel the air and smell the scents of the city. And THAT feeling, THAT emotive force, is truly tremendous.
Do you find that particular technique has made you miss some opportunities or not?
I am always thinking of the next. the next, the next. If you get aggravated because you missed a really good shot, you are going to miss the next one as well. The concentration required to consistently shoot street photography at a high level is enormous and totally mesmerizing. You must have deep passion for the whole thing; the streets, the people, your camera in your hands, pressing that shutter down hard.
I have an expression I love saying: There are pictures everywhere. On a great day it consumes your vision corner to corner. You could not possibly grab everything. That, even if possible, is never my intention. I slam my shutter down when that internal voice screams at me to take the picture now. In truth the only true technique I use is to guess focus and snap the shot. I hate to fidget with the focus so use tabbed wide-angle lenses so I know by feel how to set my distance.
Thank you very much ! i am not used to people talking about my work, so this is greatly appreciated.