Emerging Artist Spotlight: Robert Shults

In Black and White Photography, Exhibits, Gallery, Photographer on February 2, 2010 at 11:54 am


Robert Shults  “Building and Sky”

“When Robert arrived in Austin in 2001, he was homeless, and spent several months finding his way off the street. In the summer of 2007, he learned that he would be laid-off from the teaching position he had held for several years, and he suddenly felt an old anxiety in a profoundly new way.  He then began returning to and photographing the spaces he had first used for temporary shelter several years earlier.”

This brief gallery bio speaks volumes on the artistic inspiration of Robert Schults. We interviewed him recently and found his insights as compelling as his photography. These are his responses with brief edits.

Why are you using monochrome in your images?

I seem to have an innate compulsion to work in black and white, and I’ve only really rationalized this instinct after the fact. At one point in my education, my mentor simply stopped providing me with expensive rolls of Kodachrome.

Two factors hold the primary influences over my palette. I seem to compose in a manner similar to the draftsman, first perceiving my subject’s form in terms of its edges and the negative space surrounding it, rather than being initially attracted by its color value. A secondary reason is my subject matter itself. Since I am predominantly concerned with architecture and design, my subjects are often monochrome themselves, composed largely of concrete and steel.

What is your goal with your viewers? What do you want them to experience, feel or take away  from viewing your work?

I have worked hard to fulfill the ideals of Alfred Stieglitz, that the photograph can represent a visual "equivalent" of an emotional state which is distinct from the plastic material chosen as a subject.

My most recent body of work, "The Small Corners of Existence", depicts temporary shelters I utilized during a brief period of homelessness. My intention with these images was to elicit in the viewer a sense of what occupying these spaces felt like, rather than merely documenting what these spaces look like. As such, I choose an unorthodox visual strategy for the series, creating photos which often appear dichotomous, fractured, and unbalanced. Hopefully, the viewer experiences a state similarly tense, unstable, and fragmented to that which I experienced while living on the street.

Some of your work is "abstract" … Why that as a subject area?

To my mind, photography is, primarily, an art of abstraction. The photographer’s task is to extract his or her subject from the mass of spatial and temporal context present before the lens. When the extent of that abstraction is extreme and the resulting image is not entirely representative of the "whole", what remains within the photograph is a confluence of psycho-emotional contexts: the subjective state experienced by the photographer at the time of creation blended with the personal history of the viewer. In this regard, the heavily-abstracted photograph has a unique power to function, as Minor White said, as a "mirror of some part of ourselves."

For a glimpse of Robert’s work: L. Nowlin Gallery

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