Interview with Robin Schwartz, Photographer
Robin Schwartz, Ruby, 2011 © Robin Schwartz/Aperture
(Ruby Schwartz for Robin Schwartz)
Recently, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Robin Schwartz, a photographer and animal lover who resides in New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and animals. Much of Schwartz’s work examines and explores interspecies relationships. Schwartz’s work has been exhibited internationally; her work is in museum collections at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art; The Smithsonian American Art Museum; and The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art . Schwartz has also published several books including her most recent book, Amelia and the Animals, published by Aperture. I truly enjoy Schwartz’s work, and I am sure that you will too!
KATHERINE CARVER: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: I loved photographing with an instamatic camera. At ten-years-old, I used this camera to photograph my cat. I was a latch key kid and was home by myself a lot. I only was able to major in art after my father died when I was 19-years-old. It would not have been acceptable in my economic situation to be an art major in college. A graduate teacher at the Pratt Institute, Arthur Freed, made it possible for me to not only get into the program, but helped me obtain a graduate assistantship and a Ford Foundation Grant. I don’t know what would have become of me if not for this teacher. I was on my own and quite lost.
KATHERINE CARVER: Did you study art formally?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: Yes. As an undergraduate, I studied at William Paterson College, which is now a university, William Paterson University, where I am an Associate Professor in Photography. I earned an MFA in Photography at the Pratt Institute, New York.
KATHERINE CARVER: How do you describe your style?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: I actually don’t use the word “style.” I am a portrait photographer; if you categorized me it would be fine art and editorial photographer, specializing in portraiture, animals, and environmental portraiture.
Robin Schwartz, Ricky and Amelia, 2002, from Amelia and the Animals (Aperture 2014) © Robin Schwartz
KATHERINE CARVER: Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating photographs was absolutely something that you had to do?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: I photograph because I want to remember. I have been around a lot of death, early on in life.
KATHERINE CARVER: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin photographing dogs and animals?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: I love and am very comfortable with them [animals]. They comfort me, and as I mentioned before, I was home alone a lot as a kid. When I was ten-years-old , the deal was that I could have a cat that lived in the house to keep me company, (as opposed to my cats who lived outside and were not allowed in the house, those cats got run over, killed in construction), and then my mother could go to work full time, including the summers. Before that cat, which went with me to college and graduate school, he died when I was 27, we adopted a beautiful Shetland Sheepdog from the pound/shelter in Newark, New Jersey, after we saw this beautiful Shetland Sheepdog being given up as we came into the pound/shelter. The pound asked the people who were giving him up whether he was up to date on shots, they said he was – and he wasn’t. Three weeks later, we had to put him down because of the distemper he caught while at the shelter. Those seizures where quite horrible, and the vet said he was never vaccinated. It was a crime that haunts me today.
KATHERINE CARVER: How have your own dogs/animals influenced your artwork?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: Absolutely, my animals at home are in much of my work; to remember them; and keep them young.
Robin Schwartz, Shiba Up, 2006, from Amelia and the Animals (Aperture 2014) © Robin Schwartz
KATHERINE CARVER: Where did the idea come from for your work and book entitled, Amelia & the Animals?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: The title came from my editor at Aperture, Lesley Martin. I guess it is an apt description.
KATHERINE CARVER: What has it been like collaborating with your daughter, Amelia, on photo projects with animals?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: The project and our collaboration has grown as Amelia matures. Our balance has changed as in any growing relationship. Amelia is my partner.
KATHERINE CARVER: Can you describe your successful Kickstarter process for your new book entitled, Amelia & the Animals, published by Aperture?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: Aperture did everything relating to the Kickstarter process – Aperture is a wonderfully supportive publisher, the fact that they are historic and not-for-profit makes them extraordinary. I am so honored to be published by Aperture and have had Lesley Martin and the team, Kellie McLaughlin, Barbara Escobar, and Jason Bailey supporting and rooting for me. The Kickstarter and the Amelia and the Animals book are what they are because of Aperture. Aperture is like family. (You can view the Kickstarter video here).
Robin Schwartz, Love Ming, 2009, from Amelia and the Animals (Aperture 2014) © Robin Schwartz
KATHERINE CARVER: Where do you show/exhibit your work?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: Right now Aperture is representing me, specifically Kellie McLaughlin, she is wonderfully supportive. I had left a New York City gallery this past August and asked if Aperture could handle my work.
KATHERINE CARVER: What does “being creative” mean to you?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: Good question, I think I will ask that in the class I teach. Creative means, that after you have a handle on skill, on craftsmanship, and can work and think beyond the basics — that to be creative you figure out what is unique to you or simply, what makes you happy, what is authentic for you. I think if you find your passion, art gives you the reason to immerse yourself in what you love.
Robin Schwartz, Paris Greyhoud Hair, Belle de Nuit, and Pioute Van Guartd Mattenet, 2010, from Amelia and the Animals (Aperture 2014) © Robin Schwartz
KATHERINE CARVER: What is the most challenging aspect of being a photographer?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: The most challenging aspect of being a photographer is having confidence on several levels, personal, skill, social skills, managing your time, and a deal breaker can be the finances of it all. I am finally a full time, tenured professor. Only when I achieved full time status did I qualifying for health insurance at work. This greatly helped me financially, supporting my personal work.
KATHERINE CARVER: What inspires you to keep going and what keeps you motivated?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: Another good question. I teach for a living, and I aim to be a good, generous, kind teacher, but I want to be remembered as a photographer. A curator who was a mentor to me early on, who has since passed away, said to me once, “You came a long way for what you do.” At the time she meant the Primate Portraits, having the Like Us: Primate Portraits book published by Norton and my work in the museums like the Met and the MOMA both located in New York City. So at 19-years-old I was on my own, and not far from homeless, and it was a scary time. During and after graduate school, I hung out with and photographed stray dog packs; I now see that I identified with being a stray myself. So my motivation in life is: my daughter as she is my family; my animals as I need them emotionally; and photography as that is a huge part of my purpose, very stimulating and exciting, and my identity. Being a photographer means I accomplished something.
Robin Schwartz, Baby Horned Owls, 2011, from Amelia and the Animals (Aperture 2014) © Robin Schwartz
KATHERINE CARVER: What kind of patterns, rituals, and routines do you have while making your art?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: I procrastinate enormously; I clean the house instead of editing my own work. I like to edit on Adobe Bridge. When I worked in the darkroom I had a television with a red filter…but I work all digitally now and the television is distracting. I multi-task a great deal and I juggle responsibilities and work hard to met my many deadlines.
KATHERINE CARVER: What are you working on now?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: Well, I just quickly wrote the answers for another interview before this one, but your questions are much deeper, interesting to answer – I am learning about interviewing these days by how differently each person approaches it. I am working on how to work. I am finishing a sabbatical proposal with supporting materials, updating my resume and website – editing comes last. I am updating the keynote presentation I gave at SVA (School of Visual Arts, New York City on October 7, which you can view here.) Now, I have to re-edit it for the talk in San Francisco at the Photo Alliance held on November 7. Then, I go to Paris Photo with Aperture for an Amelia and the Animals book signing. On December 1, I give my keynote for a presentation and exhibition at Aperture. Finally, I am having prints made. The list goes on and on. I will resume shooting in December, when I travel back to Mexico to follow up on a new project. I am also a full time professor in photography at William Paterson University where I am an Associate Professor in Photography and on those days, that is all I do — teach and commute.
Robin Schwartz, Breakfast Talk with Rosie, 2011, from Amelia and the Animals (Aperture 2014) © Robin Schwartz
KATHERINE CARVER: What artists inspire your work?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: It changes, historically, Juliette Margaret Cameron, Eugene Atget, August Sanders, Eugene Smith, and Sally Mann – well Sally Mann is contemporary and historic…There are so many photographers and many contemporary photographers in photojournalism, fine art, documentary that inspires me – it is impossible to mention them all.
KATHERINE CARVER: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: Have a good work ethic; be able to take criticism; don’t be embarrassed as I was of what you love; practice social and writing skills; and, above all else, be persistent about working.
Robin Schwartz, Lorenzo, 2011, from Amelia and the Animals (Aperture 2014) © Robin Schwartz
KATHERINE CARVER: How can people view and purchase your art works and books?
ROBIN SCHWARTZ: www.RobinSchwartz.net (I am currently updating!) and Aperture. Only the Amelia and the Animals is in print, the other three books are out of print: Like Us: Primate Portraits; Dog Watching; and Amelia’s World.
All images contained in this interview are courtesy of Robin Schwartz and Aperture.