The Safire Homme
Featuring James J. Robinson
Interview by Léla Sophia
Léla Sophia: How would you describe your photography style? How has your style developed?
James J. Robinson: My photography style all comes down to lighting. Lighting has been such an important part of my development, not only as an artist but as a human in that when I was younger and whenever I was feeling really sad and wanted to process my emotions, as a child who didn’t really know how to process those emotions, I’d always go into a room and first thing I would do would be to change the lighting. I’d put a shirt over my bedside lamp that would turn the room blue; or turn on fairy lights. I’d always alter the lights in some way to reflect on the way that I was feeling. I didn’t realize that was a weird thing to do until a year ago. I noticed the link between my emotions and lighting, so when I started photographing, if I was feeling really happy or feeling really sad, the first thing I would think about would be how can I adjust the lighting in this image to reflect how I’m feeling at the moment, or to reflect how I feel about or a subject or an object; whatever I’m taking photos of. I honestly see my photography as coming second to my lighting design. My style has more to do with lighting than it does to do with photography.
LS: How did growing up in Melbourne, Australia influence your style?
JJR: I think growing up in Melbourne was good because it’s so supportive for lots of young artists. It’s kind of perfect because there’s a big industry there but it’s made up of people who are all friends with each other. To come from a city where everyone is supporting each other as artists from the very beginning was fundamental to me reaching the point that I have because it meant that I wasn’t chucked into the deep end when I was younger, and was really given the time to experiment with styles and different people, to see what energy I worked with best. I think most of my style comes from all the films that I’ve watched more than anything though. When it comes to photography, I’m always pulling references from old films that I really love, or foreign films that I love. Melbourne mixed so many different cultures, so I was able to experiment using these different weird films as reference.
LS: What are some of your favorite films?
JJR: There are so many, and I have them all tattooed on my arms. When it comes to lighting, Wong Kar-Wai has been a really big influence in my life. He’s this filmmaker from Hong Kong who makes all these amazing films, mostly in nighttime light. He’s someone who I’ve always thought has had a similar idea of emotion when it comes to lighting. I love Japanese Cinema, Still Walking is one of my favorite films; I love Taiwanese cinema, Yi Yi is one of my favorite films, lots of different films.
LS: What is your definition of style?
JJR: I think my definition of style is an external interpretation of your identity. I don’t think style is something that is defined by trends, or something that’s defined by anything. Someone can be really, really stylist, you can catch someone on the subway and see the way someone is holding their hands and see how it extends through their posture. I think style is just so much more than clothing, and more about the way that you hold yourself as an exterior or the way that you embody your flesh. Someone who is stylish is someone who is authentic to their identity.
LS: What is the one thing you can’t leave the house without doing?
JJR: I have such specific routines. The second I wake-up, I need to read the news. And then because all of my friends live in Australia, I always have to reply to my friends in the morning. I think it’s also mainly just a process of making breakfast for myself and spending the time just being along and getting ready. I am reading this really beautiful book at the moment by Hans-Ulrich Obrist that has this really beautiful quote and this one line about waking up in the morning. “Waking in the morning is like staring into the abyss, looking into the universe.” which I think is a really nice way to wake up. Always keeping in mind the universality of every day.