Time, energy and expertise – Rober Farber

A retrospective of photographer Rober Farber.

Writer / Photo InsiderMagazine.
Photography / cover Photo Insider Magazine

The beige door opens into a bright setting of hardwood floors and soft billowing whiteness. Robert Farber has a gentle appearance. He is under six foot with curly hair that brushes against his shoulders and carries an unassuming manner. White couches lazing in the hot sun compose the framework of a modest living room. Phones ring and he excuses himself to attend some business.

The apartment is small, not by New York City standards, but by living standards. The living room is divided in half. The front includes a sitting area across from an entertainment center. A wooden table loaded with a collection of personal photographs as well as stack of books and a framed letter from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis neighbors a nearby wall. An L-shaped work surface supports three stations designated by phones. In front of each phone is a chair covered in a white valance. There is an Apple Powerbook, Stylewriter printer and a fax machine resting on available space. Hiding beneath the work surface is a compact copier. Standing against a wall with windows is a large light box neat with a stool tucked below. A fancy table decorated with candles seems out of place near a narrow stand holding a slide projector and assorted tools.

This functional apartment is actually Robert’s second home. He has another home in California and uses his east coast location to serve as an office for the majority of the year. With staff members at both sites, it is apparent that Robert Farber is a successful artist, as well as a successful businessman.

All about the room are framed photographs baring naked torsos and other assorted body parts. The photographs gleam as sunlight enhances the composition of prints. Outstretched arms extend, leaning up from the floor as if aspiring to someday hang properly on the walls. The light noise of a taxi’s horn passes in the background as Robert Farber begins to explain his lifelong journey.

Originally from South Orange, New Jersey, Robert Farber’s first artistic inclination was toward painting. He developed his craft as a young student and hoped his passion could cross over into his career. His parents urged him to go to college and pursue another field of study. He attended the University of Miami, without working in the arts. After college, he moved to New York City and taught himself photography. With no formal training, Robert ventured into the art of photography carrying his painter’s style. Many of his first works were still life shots taken in, what Robert refers to as, “a painterly fashion.” Robert claims his digression from painter to self-taught photographer preserved his desire to take pictures and evolve with his art. The pattern of self-development emerged at the beginning and continues throughout Robert’s career. As he desires to learn a new subject, he attacks it head-on.

I need to maintain creative outlets and continue to do the things that excite me in order to develop my potential.

Trying out his new field, Robert entered his photographs in outdoor art shows held all over Manhattan. He had to enter pictures in the “graphics” category as photography was not recognized in the late ’60’s early ’70’s. At one show, a woman approached him and asked if his entries were paintings or photographs. He replied his images were indeed photographs and the woman made him remove his work immediately.

Eventually, these shows did lead to sturdy foundations in photography, bringing business and a few faces into Robert Farber’s life. At a Greenwich Village show, Robert was approached after a gentleman viewed an interior shot on display. He asked Robert if it was possible to include a model in a similar setting. Robert agreed and so accepted his first commercial assignment for Cotton, Inc. It was also at an outdoor show that a contact developed which led to the publication of his first book, Images of Women.

At about the same time, in a small gallery, Robert Farber displayed a few photographs. Bob Guccione’s sister wandered into the gallery and after viewing those photographs, contacted her brother. This pleasing coincidence landed Robert Farber shooting assignments for
Penthouse and Playboy magazines. Some of the work he shot was under different aliases to keep his commercial work separate from the fine art he was still developing. While the job paid bills and gave him good experience, Robert found his fine art moving in a direction away from eroticism. This conflict led Robert to discontinue shooting for the magazines and pursue his own style of photography.
    Once his first book arrived, Robert realized the value of published material. The gathering of multiple images through a single theme brought him credibility through hard work. To date, Robert Farber has nine collections of his work in print and is currently working on three new books for publication. A book with a working title of Americana will be a collection of still lifes and nudes. The second, currently titled New York, will fill its pages with sights and scenes from the most famous city in the world.

I enjoy working on my own books, assembling the photographs, and working with an editor. It’s an enjoyable process.

Robert already has a thick folder full of possibilities resting on his night stand. He is turning his focus to his next book, Natural Beauty.

Robert credits his collection of books with much of his success. It is through the wide circulation of his images that he has caught the attention of many companies who, in turn, use Robert for commercial work. In some cases, matches are made. By The Sea, Robert’s most recent book, spawned commercial deals with Cunard cruise lines and the QE2.

Sometimes a book can attract a publisher’s eye and create a calling for another new book, as was the case with Farber Nudes. Sixth in his line of published materials, Farber Nudes caught the eye of one of the most famous editors, the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In 1984, Mrs. Onassis arranged to have Robert come to Doubleday and discus the potential for a new release. At that time, Robert was returning from a trip to the French Riviera with many seaside photographs.

I love the sea and spent time on the Jersey Shore as a child. I think most people bond with water at some time in their lives.

The images entranced Mrs. Onassis and she immediately pitched an idea to combine the seaside images with quotes about the sea. With a few additions, her original concept would later become By the Sea, a seamless collection of seascapes scattered with quotes, from mostly famous people about their experiences with the sea. After difficulties at Doubleday, the book was eventually published by a small art book publisher and has since had a soft cover printing by Watson-Guptill Publications.

“One day I received a phone call from a friend telling me that my book was being auctioned off at Sotheby’s.” True disbelief resonates in Robert’s voice. As he pages through the Sotheby’s journal of the Estate of Jacqueline Onassis, he once again awakens reality. Listed between strung pearls and antique ashtrays, and autograph reads:

“Jackie- Thank you for the support & the great interest you have shown in my work.
                              -Robert Farber”

Robert Farber’s book, Farber Nudes, retails for $40.00 and was predicted to fetch between $400.00 and $500.00 at the auction. The autographed copy of Farber Nudes sold for $4,887.00.

The focus of many articles published by others and resounding success in his field, Robert has maintained a down to earth personality. His style has brought prestige and worldwide acclaim. In a collection of “fifty-five world-class photographers” named of Explorers of Light, Robert was highlighted in particular for his work with models. The book, assembled by Canon USA, Inc., makes note of this selection of photographers as those who “define image making for the nineties.” Unlike this lofty description, Robert is like his real-to-life images; far from rehearsed.

Many techniques and products have danced throughout Robert’s career. To date, he enjoys shooting black and white images, but is aware of the commercial call for color. Currently, Robert is known to shoot with Canon cameras including those from the EOS series. Both black and white and color films are used, but always Agfa product. Strong colors and accurate blends are originally drew Robert in, and have since kept him using Agfa films. He also enjoys Agfa papers for developing his own images, although since taking on a smaller place in New York, he does not have his own darkroom.

Robert Farber’s career continues to take new direction. As one of the first photographers online, his work is displayed in a concise fashion in tune with the new media. Recently, a web master redesigned the site and, along with Robert, incorporated many new features. An amazing 3-D gallery offers a tour of Robert’s work. From this point you can visit collections of still life, nudes and landscapes. The site will guide you from room to room and offer you opportunities to look at pictures close up. Also available is a peek into a vast collection of commercial work that includes actual tear sheets from Saks Fifth Avenue, Lipton Tea, and Absolut Vodka.

Robert is investing time in Internet Workshops that will allow visitors the opportunity to go behind the scenes of any image on the website. Once in the “studio,” any visitor will be able to see and retrieve technical information about images. The workshop will include information on products, including lights, filters, films, computer imaging, cameras, and lenses. There will also be informative materials on working with models and getting published. “I like sharing how I do my work.” Robert is comfortable with approximating his techniques because he feels even in the exact same settings, no two pictures turn out identically.

All photographs reflect the photographer, the technical is just one side.

Consistently Robert has spent time teaching other photographers what he has already learned to become successful. In fact, two of his earlier books, Professional Fashion Photography and The Fashion Photographer were written to assist photographers. In other collections, including By the Sea and Farber Nudes, techniques are printed, furnishing photographers with almost how-to descriptions. Robert also runs seminars through PPA and other associations. The Internet Workshops are not available yet, but they are taking names of those interested on the website.

There are many other resources to take advantage of at farber.com. A series of original prints are available for under $100. Currently, you can also purchase a number of Robert’s books. Eventually, Robert hopes the site will be sponsored by manufacturers whose items will be for sale through the website as well.

Presently, Robert works out of New York and California. Pursuing a new leg in his career, Robert is challenging himself to direct moving images. With a music video and commercials under his belt, he is working through The Gersh Agency to direct a feature film. However, Robert plans to maintain his established name in the field of still photography, “absolutely, I will continue to shoot fine art and take on commercial assignments.”

As new projects and products arise, Robert continues to evolve along with his art. With new Encad printers, he is exploring digital printouts on large surfaces including canvas and photographic papers. While he acknowledges the manipulation of photographs through computers, he is not currently following the trend. His lack of involvement in the new technology advances does not reflect any opinion other than the fact that he is not convinced that direction coincides with his visions.

Whatever Robert Farber is involved with, you can be sure it changes and moves like art itself. As his trend towards soft gels moves to crisper images, his favoring of black and white transgresses to color, his stills are now moving images. Robert Farber’s quest is an endless progression to transform and transfix audiences.

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