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Crafting Excellence: Robert Farber talks merging a fine-art and commercial photography career.

July 10, 2017

© Robert Farber

Having spent the last four decades photographing nudes, still lifes, landscapes, fashion, beauty and Americana, Robert Farber has become a master of his craft. But getting to a place where his work is in demand by international galleries and major fashion and advertising clients came as the result of trial and error and developing a consistent style. We caught up with the photographer, who’s currently working with ChromaLuxe—print medium partner for PDN’s The Curator exhibition at Milk Gallery in New York City on August 10—on the prints for a retrospective that will appear at the PDN PhotoPlus International Conference + Expo later this year.

PDN: How did your photography career begin?
Robert Farber: My first love was for art and painting. I’m self-taught in photography, and my technical mistakes in film—the graininess, not knowing what kind of film I should be using, the resulting soft tones—produced a painterly effect that became my signature style. My career started off in a unique way: My fine-art work and my commercial work in fashion photography came to fruition at the same time. It all began at an outdoor art show in New York City where a creative director took notice of my photography. In 1976, my first book, Images of Woman, was published. At the same time I got my first commercial assignment—a fashion ad for Cotton Incorporated. And then Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis gave me a stamp of approval when she commissioned me for a book at Doubleday, By the Sea. Let’s just say it all happened by accident.

© Robert Farber

PDN: Your aesthetic has remained the same with both film and digital media. How did you make the transition so smoothly?

RF: Digital doesn’t have the same personality as film, so I started using a point-and-shoot to capture interesting effects with filters in camera, playing with the ISO to get blur and soft focus and digital noise to evoke the graininess of my film images.

PDN: You’ve been printing on metal for a while now. How did you get into it?

RF: A few years ago I met Alan Blazar, founder of Blazing Editions, when he saw my work on display at Art Miami. He introduced me to the idea of printing my photographs on metal—something his company specializes in. So I started experimenting with ChromaLuxe’s aluminum surfaces, which use the process of dye sublimation to infuse images onto the metal. What’s great about printing on metal, besides its richness, is that I can get any surface I want out of the prints. Also, the durability is amazing. The metal is archival and I don’t have to put glass in front of it.

© Robert Farber

PDN: What do you find the most beneficial about your relationship with Blazing Editions and ChromaLuxe?

RF: They’ve perfected the use of applying metal to various surfaces. And we’re able to experiment together with new media. Now we’re experimenting with printing Polaroid SX-70s on metal—they’re able to put it together so there’s matte paper on the outside and glossy metal in the center so it has the feel of SX-70s.

PDN: What body of work are you most excited about now?

RF: Deterioration Series: A Collaboration with Time is a project that I’m about to release that’s really special to me. I noticed film I had taken in the 1970s were stored in non-archival plastic sleeves and had started to deteriorate. They were from my classic fashion series with supermodels of the time. I was upset when I first noticed what was happening, and I returned to revisit them from time to time. Then, I noticed a perfect natural effect that had happened. At that point, I scanned the transparencies, resulting in new life in the works themselves, all-natural, organic images; no Photoshop, just a collaboration with time. This is the most important project to date for me and I’m bringing it to life on a gloss metal that ChromaLuxe is producing for the series. 21st Editions is also publishing a large-format book of the project, and they chose to use one of the images in the book as a dye-sublimation print—to me this confirmed the credibility of a metal print being accepted into the fine-art photography world. They worked with Alan Blazer of Blazing Editions to produce the dye-sublimation print.

© Robert Farber

PDN: What advice would you give to emerging photographers?

RF: When you get a commercial assignment, shoot the same way you would for your personal work. For example, the image of running horses—which we just printed mural-sized on metal—was taken while on a fashion assignment in the South of France for Marshall Field’s. We were on a private ranch and the wranglers and wild horses were running behind us. I was shooting models and then I picked up my other camera and shot the horses. It’s been a big gallery seller for a number of years. Walk around and observe—it’s about making a graphic composition out of something that people walk by everyday and don’t see. Keep shooting your passion.

Learn more about ChromaLuxe at chromaluxe.com.

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