Artist Spotlight: Robert Flynt
Since the beginning of this month, the unique vision of photographer Robert Flynt has been accompanying my stories on the site. He has provided art for four of them so far--White, Special, Caliente, and Crazy Little Thing--and his images will accompany my words through the end of March.
Under another name (and in another life, it seems), I got to meet and collaborate with Bob on another kind of collaboration, and I´m grateful to be working with him again on linking his incredible images with my original stories. I´m particularly grateful that he was able to carve out some time to speak with me about his work, as he is currently in the process of moving! Below are some highlights from our recent conversation.
CP: Your photographic art is very beautiful and unique. How would you describe it to someone who has never seen it before?
RF: If/when someone asks me to describe my work to them, I usually just say: “ I’d rather you look at it than for me to describe - I’m a visual artist and it is meant to be seen, not described”. And then (nicely) refer them to my website and Instagram. I’ve always loathed having to do artist statements, descriptions, proposals, etc., although completely understand that the art/funding world is built on these verbal stand-ins for visual art. I’ve always had an unhealthy and unhip disinterest in conceptual work, where the visual object seres to illustrate a (primarily/entirely) verbal idea - I’m a scopophiliac, so really not interested in describing it. CP: Your work combines photography of nude male models along with found images, from vintage photographs to anatomical prints and architectural blueprints. Can you tell us more about how you select these "backgrounds"? RF: Primarily male. I have photographed women not infrequently, but my career has foregrounded the work with male imagery. I also feel more “authorized” to focus on the male nude, which until fairly recently was rarely central to contemporary imagery.
For the “secondary/background” image vocabulary: this has rather intuitively evolved over the years. I’ve always been drawn to anatomy diagrams since grade school (The World Book transparencies in particular), as well as maps and almost any kind of diagram or “visual aid” in school. I’m also an avid flea marketer, so my choices usually begin with what has caught my eye at any given time: it is rarely strategically planned. I have sometimes had a fetish (i.e. wrestling diagrams/photos), that I would then deliberately do shoots and share with models/collaborators to relate to, but never really “pose” (an alien concept). But pre-planning is the exception rather than the rule. CP: I also see that you work with all sorts of different kinds of cameras, from digital to "old school film". Do you choose a different instrument depending on the subject? Or does the idea follow the tool, ie comes as the result of using a different kind of camera? RF: I rarely use film cameras anymore - mostly just a medium format Mamiya that became a kind of “warm up” with a new model, as it is a slower process, behaves differently with long-exposure, flashlight-drawing process that I’ve been doing a lot; but the bulk has been with a “conventional” digital DSLR Sony for the past several years. I ponder going back at some point to a bit more film, especially if I get more back into the underwater motif (for years mostly relied on a Nikonos underwater scuba camera), but I rather doubt it.
CP: Did you always work with photography as your primary visual medium as an artist? Have you worked in other forms, such as painting or drawing? RF: My background is primarily in painting, drawing and printmaking. I have no formal training in photography, and majored in painting in art school. My father taught me what little “technique” I have, as he was a serious amateur and there was a darkroom in the basement of the house I grew up in. I moved into photography after moving to NYC in 1980 and getting involved with the downtown dance and performance world, primarily through documentation, and then collaboration. I haven’t drawn or painted in over 30 years and doubt I’ll start back up - though I do consider the light-drawing in my current process a drawing-like activity. CP: I see that you´ve done a number of collaborations with dance artists. Tell me what that has been like, and how you got into that? RF: I did some Contact Improvisation training when I was in high school and worked at a professional regional theater during the summer in my hometown, so when I moved to New York City in 1980 and was asked by a choreographer friend to do some documentation for her, it made a strong connection to my love of movement and theater, even though by then I knew I didn’t want that to be my career. The downtown dance/performance world was super fun and sexy in New York in the ´80s, and I had a lot more fun in that than in the painting world I was trying to professionally break into. So the photo more or less overtook the painting/printmaking. I’ve loved working with a range of fabulous choreographers over the years: deeply inspiring and motivating and I doubt I would have had the kinds of ideas and inspirations without that world.
CP: You´ve done a number of covers for the writer Dennis Cooper. How did that collaboration come to be? RF: My now-husband knew Dennis in LA, and gave me some of his work when we were first “dating” (I think that is the word). It was more than a little startling, but I did get into it, and got to know Dennis when he was living in New York in the ´80s. He asked me if he could use an image of mine for his book Closer, which was just coming out from Grove Press. I knew nothing about working with book designers or licensing work for commercial use, so was very flattered and thrilled. It led to doing several more covers for him, as well as with many other writers, as I figured it wasn’t that hard to meet designers and get work out that way. At one point, many more people knew my work through Dennis’ covers than the official “art world,” and that was pretty cool. CP: Like many creative expressions, photography as an art form has undergone a lot of changes in the last 20+ years due to technology. What have you observed as being the shortcomings as well as the opportunities to these shifts? How have you adapted?
RF: Oh, I guess that is a long answer, but not that interesting: a bit of kicking and screaming into the digital world, and sadness at leaving the mysterious, magical cocoon of the darkroom. But, on the other hand, nice not breathing in all those chemicals. I’ve always just “winged it” essentially, technically, since I never studied photography, and still don’t really know what an f-stop is. Nor particularly care. I had no idea how to use the Nikonos camera when I jumped into the pool with two dancers in 1986, but somehow something always came out. CP: What projects are you working on now? RF: Selling our Arizona house, and moving back to New York is consuming most of my head-space right now until the spring. CP: Anything you want us to know about? Anything coming up that we can see more of your work? RF: Not really - hopefully projects will emerge after we get back to New York full time, and Covid eases, and WWIII doesn’t happen, and there still will be some kind of art/performance world to work and play in.