Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Interview With Francois Robert

Click on any image for larger view.

Click on any image for larger view.

Click on any image for larger view.

Click on any image for larger view.

Click on any image for larger view.

YOU HAVE JUST VIEWED THE EXTRAORDINARY WORK OF MY FRIEND FRANCOIS ROBERT, a photographer who is very well known throughout the United States and the international community. Francois is currently a finalist for “International Photographer of the Year,” (Lucie Awards) and he was kind to slow down a moment for this Accidental Mysteries interview:

Q) Francois!! So good to catch up with you. I have been wanting to sing your praises on Accidental Mysteries for some time now. We first met at the home of our mutual friend Paul some time ago. That’s when I first saw your book “FACES” and it is a treasure on my book shelf. Since that book (Chronicle, 2000) and the second book “Face to Face” (Lars Mueller, Switzerland, 1995, sold out) I see faces everywhere and, of course, it’s all your fault. What are you trying to do... make people SEE things they have never seen before?

A) Thanks John. My brother Jean and I have been documenting objects with “faces” since 1977. We started a phenomenon with faces and now there is a flickr page dedicated to us. You can also Google: “Tribute to Francois+Jean ROBERT.”

Q) Tell me a bit about your background—I understand that you were born in France and that you live and work here in the U.S. Where do you spend your time (what state?) and why do you like working here?

A) Actually, John, I am Swiss from the French part of Switzerland. Most of my friends have Americanized my name to: Frank Bob. The proper pronunciation is: Franswa ROWBEAR. :-) My wife Jane and I live 6 months in Tucson, AZ, 5 months in Michiana Shores, IN and 1 month in Chicago, IL. During the year, Jane and I like to travel. I enjoy working in this country because people here judge you on your performance and not on your pedigree.

Q) I found a great and very flattering quote by the great designer, Massimo Vignelli about you and it reads as follows:

“Working with Francois Robert has always been a lot of fun.
—First, he understands the briefing.

—Second, he adds to it in a brilliant way.

—Third, he shoots and delivers the assignment in time.

—Fourth, the work turns out to be better than it was planned.

—Fifth, he is a terrific photographer.

—Sixth, he is a great human being.
—Seventh, he is an equally good graphic designer.

—Eight, he is great fun.

—Ninth, he has a cool sense of humor.

—Tenth, he is great to work with.

So, Francois, this may be tough, but try to tell me one more thing that Massimo may have missed?

A) He speak funny and tells good jokes :-)

Q) I know that you have shot with many well-known designers and design firms—some of the best in the world. But, given your own desires, you focus a lot on highly conceptual projects with the camera. Of course, you did the famous “Faces” book and you did a series once where you laid out and photographed every item in a woman’s purse (a very brave project, I must say!). What are some other personal projects you have done?

A) I did a series of “Skulls” from the Field Museum in the mid-1980’s. (see below). “Contents” is a series of over 130 images/portraits of the contents of bags, back-packs and pants of friends, friends of friends and acquaintances. One of my favorite projects began in 1969 and is actually on going. It’s the documentation pregnant women during the last month of their pregnancy and immediately after with their baby. I have also done a series titled “Before and After.” Additionally, I have documented the nude female body for over 40 years. I have also done a series of photos titled “From the Ground”. To see more of my work go to my Website here. (

Q) Tell me about this recent series “Stop The Violence.” I am in awe of these pictures. And, in terms of scale, I understand these are real human bones you are working with, which just blows me away. What I like is how you have recontextualized the human skeleton to say something else, and that statement/metaphor is very powerful. Tell me everything, like how the concept came about and your process.

A) I always have been fascinated with skulls (In my home town in Switzerland, my parents and I were living above a Natural Museum). As I mentioned, I photographed over 140 skulls of animals from the Field Museum in Chicago, and it become a traveling exhibition across the U.S. for 8 years (sponsored by the Museum). In the mid-90’s, during an auction from an old school, I purchased 3 metal lockers and to my surprise one of them held a real, full size articulated skeleton. For years I had it displayed in one of the rooms in my studio and I often wondered what else I could do with it. Finally the idea came to me to explore the idea of disassembling the skeleton and rearranging the bones, and from that process came the series “Stop the Violence”. I spend a lot of time on my knees arranging bones. You can imagine how my knees hurt when I decided to create a complete alphabet in order to make words along with the iconic symbols/images.

Q) I understand that, because of this series, “Stop the Violence,” you have been nominated for this year’s “International Photographer of the Year” Award (Lucie Awards) to be revealed at the New York’s newly renovated Alice Tully Theatre at the Lincoln Center on October 19. This is HUGE, Francois! I am so excited for you! Your nominated work was selected from over 18,000 submissions from 104 countries and was the “Overall Winner” in the Fine Arts category. What a remarkable achievement! Did you think, going into this project, that you were on to something special?

A) Somehow I had a feeling I was on something special after I finished the first photo/installation which was the “Swastika”. I had a major chill in my spine.

Many people who love your work will be rooting for you on October 19th! Good luck, my friend.

Francois Robert is represented by the Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago, IL.

All images shown are © copyright Francois Robert and may not be used or reproduced in any manner without his explicit approval to do so.


Tina Tarnoff said...

These photos are so extraordinary. Extraordinary. They made such impact.

henk van es said...

Thanks John for this special interview with a special photographer. Very inspiring and informative.

CFLanger said...

Wow - such powerful images! I'm going to have to check out more of his work. Thanks so much for sharing this!

Momo Luna S!gnals said...

Very strong, impressive images. And i like the interview with the designer/photographer a lot.

Can you imagine? My word verification is scardeco.....

nashashibi said...

hey , I loved this post, but can I use any of these pics, for my facebook account?

missy said...

beeautifully eloquent and chilling and heartwrenching work. simply stunning. thank you so much for posting this!

John Foster said...

Nashashibi: Glad you liked the images but the artist will not grant any usage of his images for Facebook or other. Sorry.

Anonymous said...


Sile this Millennium said...

This photos go to the suggestive
symbolism by our the humanity in the
solution without the skyline of just
the limite of field...

Unknown said...

such powerful haunting images so great to read the interview I am using his work as some of my inspiration for my Degree Show project at Univerisity

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