Welcome to the first post in a new series on Mortal Muses, in which we ask photographers to tell us about their work and inspirations. Our first guest is Emily Robinson, who lives in South Florida with her husband and two young daughters, Zoey, 6, and Maddie, 2. She has been a newspaper reporter, high-school journalism teacher, marketing assistant, graphic designer, wall decor product designer, fine artist and jewellery maker, and is now focusing on photography.
How did you get into photography?
I think it was about 3 years ago when I realized my point and shoot couldn’t do what I wanted to do any more. It wasn’t fast enough, and it didn’t give me “bokeh.” So I ordered my first DSLR, a Nikon D90, and a kit lens and the nifty fifty. I think I checked the UPS tracking on it 5000 times before it arrived. I was hooked from the moment I took it out of the box. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was giddy that I suddenly could make bokeh. Everything I’ve learned since has been through practice, screwing up, reading blogs, asking questions and studying everything relevant on the Internets. Since then, my gear has evolved to a Canon 5D Markii, with a 50mm 1.4. My Nikon still gets plenty of use with a 14mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8.
I love that your photographs tell such good stories. How do you do it?
I began my working life as a newspaper reporter in my early 20s. Back then, I was fascinated with how the small details of people’s lives hold such large stories. My career path eventually meandered from newspaper to graphic design and product design. In March of 2011, I quit my day job to pursue photography and be with my children more. In that time, my heart and inspiration pulled me back toward storytelling. I relaxed more. I stopped fretting as much about the messy house and dirty clothes and wild hair my girls had. I didn’t always shoot everything at 1.8. I pulled out a wide angle more. As a side note, at the same time I stopped straightening my naturally curly hair for the first time in my life. Perhaps being honest with myself a little more has freed me up to be more honest in my photography. When my photos became less about being pretty and more about keeping a real record of my time here on this planet, I think my work improved exponentially.
How would you describe your style?
Generally, my style is unposed, unscripted, unplanned. Obviously, with client work I cannot always achieve pure candid moments without some planning. But I don’t push it too hard. I’ve been known to let clients linger a very long, awkward time until they laugh or do something human to make the scene normal again. I don’t use props or design sets. It’s just me, my camera, a pretty spot and some pretty light.
With my own kids, who are 2 and 6, it’s a whole different ballgame. My style with them is almost always an observation. Whenever possible, I try to capture something funny. Kids are ridiculous. Being a mother is absolutely absurd. I try to create a record of the humor and sweetness of their childhood as much as I can. I think I constantly shoot with a subliminal sense of nostalgia, but not necessarily weepiness. I’ve already fast-forwarded in my brain about how it will be to capture moody teenage girls and it makes me panic a bit. I will probably need to resort to shooting landscapes.
What message do you want to convey in your photographs?
I’m never really consciously thinking of a message when I’m shooting. I guess if there is an overall theme to my driving force, it’s that life is short and at least sometimes beautiful. Yes, it’s a cliche. But it’s true, people. So if there is an undertone of inspiration in my images, I hope people would find it to be that I appreciate the beauty in the monotony and the average. Ninety-five percent of my images of my children are taken in my tiny, 1,000-square-foot-home, or in our chainlink-bordered front yard on a busy street in a cheap little splash pool. We have two bedrooms, one closet-sized bathroom, and a fairly dark house. The girls are typically filthy, with unbrushed hair and really doing whatever it is I’m shooting. No props, no pretense, just them being wonderful or awful in real time. I may or may not have lost my temper in the moments before, during or after wielding my camera for the shot. I’m only human, you know.
Who inspires you and why?
There are plenty of folks who inspire me on Flickr. It’s the place I go to most frequently to connect with other artists and photographers. I love viewing work of people who you can just see their inspiration so clearly and purely. They are really doing it for art’s sake. There are so, so many, but to name a few names — be sure to check out Brian Day. His work consistently leaves me slack-jawed. I’ve recently discovered the work of Alain Laboile on Flickr. The images feel like they are taken in another era, perhaps on another planet! And there are so many wonderful and supportive “momtogs” out there doing absolutely incredible work documenting their everyday lives. Each one of them inspires me to keep going, keep laughing, keep breathing…
What is your favourite thing to photograph?
My girls, preferably messy, in some sort of backlit scenario involving water.
Which is your favourite recent photo and what is the story behind it?
This one. It’s got all the elements I love (see above) and not only is it beautiful to look at, but also kind of funny. I mean, a twisted up dog in a kiddie pool? The story behind it? Zoey had literally picked up Sonny (who was only about 4 months old at the time) and heaved him quite ungracefully into the water for a laugh. It was un-gentle, bordering on dog abuse. But she’s a kid, he’s a pup, the light was nice, the water was amazing and my camera was handy. Viola!
You’re doing a 366. What keeps you going?
The finale. The gift I will have for myself and my kids when it’s all said and done. I’ve grown so much as a photographer doing this project. It has been incredibly worthwhile. I have to credit Erika for inspiring me to take it on. I had to be in the right place to take it on this year. That place is one that says if I don’t do something spectacular for a day, or several, it’s okay. Just keep plugging forward. Let go of the perfectionism and just shoot. Somedays will be ho hum. Some days will knock your socks off. It’s all good.
What inspired you to focus on taking photos of pregnant women and childbirth?
About a year ago I decided I would like to try to do birth photography. I felt like it would be a natural fit for my photojournalism style. I had seen amazing examples of tear-jerk slideshows from photographers in other states and became slightly obsessed with filling this role in South Florida. I took the first couple births completely for free, just to test the waters and build my portfolio. It was AMAZING. The adrenaline of being on-call. The variables of a birth. The story. The drama…. I really felt like my old self as a newspaper reporter again. Rushing off to a client. Having to think on my feet and be creative at any hour of the day, with bad lighting or good, happy clients or groaning ones. After I shot a couple of births and posted my work, a small interest developed and I began to get calls from clients who had seen my work from the local birth center.
Maternity sessions aren’t something I had initially planned on, but because my clients were interested I found myself doing more and more of these kinds of shoots. I realized I really enjoy it! It’s kind of interesting to me, as a photographer, to see the progression of pregnancy, birth and having a baby and how that dramatically affects my clients. The maternity sessions tend to be more idealized, and glorious — especially for first-time parents. The birth is true to life, and the newborn session reveals what having a baby “actually” has done to them as people and parents. Their houses change suddenly and fill up with lots of primary-colored baby gear. Their body language changes. Their attitude and mood switches. Watching first time parents go from belly to baby is really remarkable. It’s an honor to document this story for them. I know when I’m shooting that they won’t even see what I see until years later in the photos.
What projects are you planning?
I’m doing a 10 on 10 with a group of amazingly talented photographers, beginning in July. I’m excited about being linked up with such a cool group of diverse styles and talents. I’m trying hard to incorporate more video into my work. I would like to eventually tell my birth stories as a combination of stills and motion. While I love stills, video adds an entirely new layer of storytelling that can be really powerful. I’ve recently linked up with a local maternity education center in Miami and will be offering monthly “how to photograph your baby” classes to new parents. I’m very excited about helping out new parents of all skill levels feel more encouraged about how to document the beginnings of their journey as parents and document the details of their infants.
What would your superpower be?
I would be Super Patient Woman. I would have the power to give patience and grace and understanding and calm and empathy to all those around me whenever necessary. I would never be annoyed by the old lady at the grocery store with 18 coupons who is disputing her receipt while I stand behind her with two borderline meltdown kids. I would smile at spilled cups of sticky juice, or dog piss on the floor, or nasty diapers or tantrums. I would never scream at my kids or husband again. Perhaps that would make me more like Super Insane Woman? Or Super Stoned Woman?