Rob Woodcox is a fine art and fashion photographer who resides in Portland, Oregon. Rob has an extensive trajectory in the field. His portfolio displays a range of styles, all interconnected by a sense of emotional awareness in images that blur the line between dream and reality. In hand with his commercial work, Rob has used his talent to advocate for, and give a voice to children in the foster care system, and the LGBT community. His work has been featured in dozens of publications of worldwide renown, such as Vogue Magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair, and OUT. Rob is also a photography instructor, and launched this year his first video tutorial, “Ultimate Fashion Photography Masterclass: Your 2018 Guide.” We caught up with Rob during one of his photoshoots to discuss his career and the drive behind his art.
– At what age did you realize that photography was the art with which you identified yourself?
I realized around age 19 that photography was my art form. As a child, I used to paint and draw as a pastime and was highly imaginative. Feeling inept at both those art forms, I opted to try photography. After a year of shooting film experimentally I fell in love and continued pursuing digital photography.”
– How did you go from being an aspiring photographer to doing it professionally?
“At 19, when I began photography in college, I was shooting about 4-5 times a week experimentally, just for the sheer love of the craft. I’d never found an outlet to express my dreams and emotions quite like capturing portraits. I spent two and a half years getting an Associates degree in photography, but after school, at artist meet-ups, and during travels is where I really put my skills to the test. After starting a Flickr in 2009, my work progressed exponentially with the support of a community. By 2012, I was traveling every six months to see my newfound artist family. By 2014, I had accrued a large enough audience to promote a North American workshop tour with friends, and subsequently a world tour involving 4 continents and 12 cities. The street cred from traveling the world carried me into more opportunities, from licensing for commercial work, to shooting editorial campaigns. I’ve been self-employed as a photographer for almost 5 years now.”
– You have a very diverse portfolio of work. What do you wish to express with your photographs, and how do you achieve this process?
“I see the world through a vividly queer lens. I’ve often noticed, while appreciating something I find extraordinary, others just scoff or pass it by. I want to open people’s eyes to the beauty surrounding us in all walks of life. I want to create stories of the reality I experience within my imagination- something that can be shared through visual art. I like to draw the lines between human connectivity, to show that we’re not all so different after all. To cast that net and reel in plausible photo concepts, it often requires spending some time in isolation. Despite my social tendencies, I love taking “me” days to sit and let my mind wander- either with a cup of tea on the sofa or on a hike up a mountain. My own dreams, experiences, and nature are some of the biggest influences on my work.”
– What is most important to you in your work, and what motivates you to continue taking photographs intellectually or emotionally?
“What keeps me going is the response to my work. Creating the most remarkable stories possible while pushing my current abilities and limitations is what is most important to me. The response is important to me because I put a lot of thought and purpose behind each image; there is deeply rooted meaning in everything I create. Seeing people respond, share, think, enjoy, and become more educated from consuming art is a reward in itself. On the other hand, I also appreciate all the strange places and experiences I get to have just from being an artist. Just last month I was flown to Alaska and got to walk on my first glacier; seeing one of the most surreal landscapes on our planet, that closely was a dream come true.”
– You have such spectacular work. Many people might not realize the time and work it takes to achieve this artistry. How long does it take you to plan and complete one of your photo sessions?
“Planning and completing a photo session can vary drastically depending on the intensity of the shoot. For a simple portrait session with little Photoshop involved, I could style, shoot and edit the photos within a 5-hour period- most likely split between two days. For my more conceptual, advanced images that require a lot of location or set prep, or heavy Photoshop, or both, it may take up to 20 hours split between multiple days. The most time I’ve spent on one photoshoot was probably over 30 hours between planning, shooting, and retouching the images. It was my recent dance set that included a human tree of dancers.”
– What are your favorite photography tools at the moment? Is there a specific camera that you are currently loving?
“To be honest, I love Sony cameras right now. I love the small, quiet body that delivers the same quality, if not better than some other major brands. For lenses, I’ve historically used Canon and Sigma and have loved them. I currently use Canon 24-70mm 2.8, 50mm 1.4, and a Sigma 70-200mm 2.8. The 24-70mm is my primary portrait shoot lens for its versatility, and I use the 70-200mm often when hiking, backpacking, and exploring nature. For strobes, I use Profoto and have had the pleasure of meeting their entire company. It has got to be my favorite gear company in the industry!”
Have you ever felt discouraged as a professional photographer and how did you get through it?
“Absolutely; there are times I’ve been financially or emotionally unstable. Life doesn’t give you a break or slows down just because you’re posting beautiful photos on Instagram. One of the most extreme cases was earlier this spring. I was overloaded with the most work I’ve ever had. A client was being extremely difficult. I was sick, and in the middle of all that, my Grandma passed away. I felt frozen for some time, but eventually, I realized I had to keep going- to honor my Grandma and ultimately myself. Even when the “work” I get isn’t personal, I know that I can use that money, resource, and momentum to create my own fulfilling work. I guess I always remember that by choosing photography, I’m picking the most interesting, passionate and exciting life path, and that makes me the best person I can be in this lifetime, for myself and others.”
– You have touched on the emotional and financial challenges that many photographers and artists have gone through. As a full time photographer, why do you think professional photographers continue to face these economic challenges?
“I think photographers are still fighting to be taken seriously as professionals. I’ve been a professional photographer for 8 years now, and it’s still so common to be approached by people expecting free photos, when you’d never expect that from a doctor, lawyer, carpenter, etc. Photographers create so much important intellectual property within today’s society- from ads to home and commercial art, to various types of campaigns and keepsakes for families. So many people make their own entire living because a photographer’s work sells their name/brand/product/etc. I’d love to see the day when photographers and artists can be taken completely seriously right off the bat. I’m a huge advocate for artists standing their ground and setting personal and industry standards with their rates, something I teach about in mentoring sessions and workshops.”
Today, almost everyone has access to devices with which it is possible to take photos. What do you think is the difference between a professional photographer and any other amateur?
“This is another factor that can be challenging as a photographer- being taken seriously when anyone with an iPhone can “be a photographer.” I think the only difference between a professional and an amateur is the commitment level- in other words, the amount to which an individual devotes him/herself to practicing and executing quality photographs.”
– Can you think of the best advice you have received as an artist in your career and which has helped you to get where you are today?
“The best advice I’ve received as an artist is to never give in to fear. It’s so easy to worry about the future. I’ve developed a strong ability to live in the moment, appreciate the now, and to plan ahead, but without worrying too much. I believe when you’re all in for your passions, and push forward with good intentions, life tends to work out the kinks.”
– To go hand in hand with this advice, what is the best advice you think you can offer someone who wishes to pursue a career in photography?
“Always be kind! The Devil Wears Prada mentality is only a small percentage of the creative industry. Most people just want to have good experiences and make beautiful things. Kindness gets you way further than any negative approach will.”
– As we come to an end, how would you like for you and your work to be remembered by future generations?
“I would like to be seen as an innovator who shared important, powerful, and original artwork.” – GM