Friday, September 5, 2014

Q&A: Robert Whitman (Award Winning Photographer)

Interview: Robert Whitman
By: Johnny Self

Foto Care's in-house blogger Johnny Self had the opportunity to have a one on one interview with world famous photographer Robert Whitman in his Soho studio. Because of Whitman's unique shooting style and work, we chose him to be the first showcased photographer on our Fotoblog. We hope you enjoy Robert's work as much as we enjoy spending time with him.

SELF: So Robert, what's your story?
        WHITMAN:  Well, I’m from Minneapolis.  I was in Theater originally, then, I was a hippy (laughs) and then decided to come to NY for acting school, and ended up traveling around the world. First. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew 3 things I didn’t want to do. Cut my hair, work a 9-5 and wear a suit and tie everyday.

SELF: That's awesome. Which place in the world is your favorite to visit? 
WHITMAN:  Cuba is my favorite. I was in Mexico a lot; I did a lot of odd jobs there. I lived on the beach for a few years.  I saw this movie called Blow up, and after watching it I figured I wanted that photographer lifestyle. 

SELF: So you kind of liked the things that came with being a photographer? The travel, etc?
WHITMAN:  Exactly. After traveling the world, I got back and was asked to take pictures of some models and I said “Sure, but I have no idea how to take a picture”. I went back to Minneapolis and my family had friends that owned a camera store. They showed me what to do and I practiced. The photos actually came out great.  Then, I was told to take my work to a big department store and I said “Oh my God Ok, but I don’t know what I’m doing” But, I did and they actually gave me a job with Daytons. Which is now Macy's.  

SELF: So that was your first big project, Daytons?
WHITMAN: Daytons was my first major project.  I just kept learning what to do at each shoot.  Since I was doing this work for Daytons  I got more calls and even though I didn’t know what I was doing.  Then I went to Paris and Jacques Nointel took me under his wing. He got me in with the editors of Elle Magazine, Votrebeaute and started shooting. They all thought I was a big photographer, but I really wasn’t.  After that, I eventually moved to NY in the early 80’s.

Johnny Self Johnny Self New York City, Johnny Self Photography

SELF: I saw a photograph of Prince on your wall, you've met him?
WHITMAN: My friends discovered Prince
SELF: Oh, ok so your friends discovered Prince
WHITMAN: His first manager hired me to shoot this “very talented singer”. We did 3 different sessions, (street, studio, and his manager’s house). He then became famous and the rest is history. I was his first photographer.

SELF: That's insane. All the experiences you’ve had in the past 40 years, what’s the most memorable moment photography provided you with?
Johnny Self Johnny Self New York City, Johnny Self PhotographyWHITMAN: There are so many (laughs) simply because I love photography.  I think shooting and being in Israel was the greatest highlight of my career. 
Being able to travel In general was important too.  I like my work in Cuba. There is this particular swimming pool that is just great and I just think that before being a photographer that I was totally blind. Exploring and discovering places that no one has seen.

SELF: Nice. What subject do you prefer to shoot?
WHITMAN: Mostly people, but I really like everything. My work is known for it’s intimate style. For some reason people feel comfortable around me. Real moments. I really enjoy shooting body parts with no face. I find that it’s mysterious. I’ve been shooting people smoking for years. Also, because of my dance affiliation I’ve been shooting legs too.

SELF: As we all know the creative process is imperative to an artist, can you describe your process before or during a project?
WHITMAN: I cant’ say because I don’t want go to jail :-)  But, things just come to me. I can go 3-4 days and not even take a photo, but then out of no where something happens and inspires me. 

SELF: You seem to have a strong connection for overseas.
WHITMAN: Yes, I definitely do. Being out of the country is very important to me.

SELF: When traveling and shooting, do you prefer film or digital?
WHITMAN: I prefer film, but everything is digital. If I want to put something in black and white, I’ll shoot
Johnny Self Johnny Self New York City, Johnny Self Photography
  film. Anytime I see a young photographer 
 around the city shooting film I think it is really  cool .

SELF: That is very cool. Anyone in the photo world that  you admire as an artist?
WHITMAN: Right now, Vivian Meyer. I really like her work and genre.

SELF: I'm curious about how you feel about   smartphone photography? The idea of people   calling themselves photographers, even children. What's your verdict?
Johnny Self Johnny Self New York City, Johnny Self Photography
Times move on. So many people can be a photographer. All you have to do is push a button. But, for a client spending thousands, you need someone who knows a little something. “Everyone’s a photographer, and it is what it is”. 

SELF: What keeps  you coming back to Foto Care?
WHITMAN: It’s home. They treat me like family. Jeff , Fred everyone; they are like family.  They’ll teach me if I have a problem. Foto Care is always so helpful. Everyone there deals with professionals. They actually care. It’s not about saving a few bucks, it’s about the follow up.  I’d never go anywhere else.

Robert's work can be found at