Robyn is a multi-disciplinary artist with a focus on photography, printmaking, and sculpture. After falling in love with the
tintype photo process, she made her own equipment, and jumped right into the field. She took her dark-box cross-country for
her first project "Homeland," and when she came back to New York, began exhibiting her work in a series of solo exhibitions,
did several artist residencies, and began teaching. She hosts an "Intro to Tintype" class at Pioneer Works, and privately in her
own Red Hook studio.
How did you discover tintype photography?
About 5 years ago I was doing street art and realized I wanted to branch out to find other ways of working and other media to work with. I started researching workshops in progress that had always interested me. I took a lace-making workshop around the same time that I attended the tintype workshop at The Center for Alternative Photography. The tintype process immediately called to me. I knew I wanted to pursue it, and I knew my first project would be a cross-country trip. After the workshop I started collecting the materials I need to make "Homeland."
How did you make your first dark-box? That's no easy task!
I researched a bunch of different designs on the internet, took a f ew measurements of my equipment, and built one. It's fairly simple carpentry and I already had woodworking skills and tools, so it wasn't too much to take on.
How did you find the subjects for your first major tintype project, "Homeland"?
I worked word-of-mouth. Sometimes I met people as a result of recommendations from others I had worked with in the underground / DIY scene. Occasionally it would be a chance meeting or connection on the road that would lead me to a person or place. I tried to leave the travel very open-ended in order to make new discoveries possible.
You've held residencies at several incredible New York institutions. What were your experiences like at The Camera Club of New York and The Bronx Museum of the Arts? How did the sense of creative community differ amongst these institutions?
Every institution and residency I have worked within has a unique dynamic, and offers different ways to grow. No matter what, the people one meets in these places are most likely going to cross paths with you again. NYC seems vast, but in reality the community is small, and we are all connected.
You often teach other artists - anybody you care to mention?
I've taught a variety of people who come from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I teach in a way that opens the process to people who have never done photography before, much less large-format photography. Many of my students do not have a background in the arts, although some are working artists looking to learn the new process. A majority of those I teach have encountered tintype at some point in their lives, and have simply become fascinated by it.
How did you get involved with Pioneer Works, and what do the classes you teach there involve?
I got involved with Pioneer Works because the Director, Gabriel Florenz, took an "Intro to Tintype" course that I was teaching at 3rd Ward. He invited me to begin teaching at Pioneer Works, which I started doing a few months later. My teaching evolved organically into a residency that lasted a year and a half. And I'm still teaching there.
What do you love most about wet plate collodion? Why do you prefer this method to standard print or digital photography?
I love the physicality of the process, and its unpredictability. I love that I always feel like I am on the edge of chaos; That the complex chemistry is always slightly beyond my control. It helps keep me in the moment, and allows me to embrace the imperfections of every image.
Your personal artwork examines the connection between individuals and communities. Can you expand on that? What sort of subjects have you photographed in the past? What attracts you to those you shoot?
I am attracted to people and places that are largely self-made. I'm interested in the variety of ways that creative energy can be used to transform ourselves and the world we live in. I'm interested in the transformations that occur within conditions of hardship, that demonstrate the resiliency of the human spirit and its capacity to reimagine. I think we see evidence of those transformations in the physical world - in what we make and build - including in how we build ourselves and our own identities. These are the people and places that I am drawn to shoot.
How has living / working in Brooklyn's budding creative community effected your work?
I moved to Brooklyn when I was 18, and think it has shaped me in many fundamental ways. I am always overwhelmed by the talent of people around me, and their willingness to work their asses off. I think people live here because they want to be challenged, and thrive on the growth that happens in response.
Photos by Caroline Petters