Two years ago, I met Robert at his home and wrote about his mesmerising Asian photography. Last year, at his Holy Creatures exhibition I had the privilege of buying one of his beautiful, atmospheric, hand-developed, black and white prints. Robert is a thoughtful, experienced and creative photographer. His work is always worth seeing. However, I am a little surprised by the title of his new exhibition. I cannot escape a tiny fear that his fascination for the Far East has led him to exhibit a series of golden temples, water buffalos, happy saffron-clad Buddhists monks and grinning children. This fear, it turns out, is unfounded. The golden land with smiling people doesn’t exist except in photos that Robert doesn’t want to exhibit.
Robert’s travels first took him to Burma in 1983. He has returned twelve times. In his medium format, black and white style he really did photograph a golden land with smiling people. He then realised that such images were precisely what the political authorities wanted visitors to take away. “I took many nice photos” he tells me. “But they were too nice! They were not representative. They were not genuine. I wanted to show the crumbling vestiges of British colonialism and the poverty of everyday life.” Determined never to exhibit these photos and equally determined to capture the political realities of Burma, he returned in 2011 and 2012 with this current exhibition in mind.
The photos on display in the new exhibition show a surprising change of approach and technique. He has moved not only from medium format film to 35mm SLR digital in colour but also from the aesthetic and evocative to photo-journalism.
I’m a great admirer of Robert’s work. Whether illustrating folklore or in pursuit of a political statement, each photo carries a distinct, understated quality.
You can meet this gentle-mannered and versatile photographer at the opening of the exhibition at Espace Cyril Kobler on Tuesday, March 3 from 1800. I’ll be there too!
Tram 12, stop: “Peillonnex”