Photographer Robert Hilton Earp is the owner of Glow Studios in Melbourne, Australia. He is best known for his award-winning global brand campaigns for international agencies. His signature photo making approach utilizes a highly conceptual style, a level of detail, often surrealism, a strong narrative and frequently playfulness.
His personal fine art work is highlighted in these three series: In Venus Virgin Tomarz, she is having a fantastical passage, a gender transition, through an exceedingly dramatic and glamorized deeply personal journey with each milestone of her life. On the flip side is the quirky character Hugger Mugger, the title taken from the terminology meaning a confused muddle. The Hugger Mugger is an entirely new persona, one that changes with each image and scene. Doll-like characters are set in crafted imagined worlds; a chaotic household, on a therapists couch, a dark bedroom with a feeling of cloak and dagger, or a girl’s messy room. Shanghai Shadows aligns with his fashion, beauty work. The Far East models are staged, in the final photograph, in various locations in Shanghai China against some beautiful architectural backgrounds or others in a setting of ruin and destruction. These are highly stylized with Asian influences and fashion.
Patricia Lanza :How did your career in commercial and advertising photography contribute to the evolution and development of your fine art ?
Robert Hilton Earp : Besides the obvious advantage of working as a commercial photographer perfecting my technique in which you need to succeed in both in fashion and advertising. These campaigns gave me the opportunity to work on large projects which influenced and inspired me.
Through shooting campaigns, I was able to create a narrative story, through a series of images, even though they were other people ideas. I was able to make their ideas come to life developing my own artistic style. This story telling then gave me the ability to articulate my own stories and ideas. Very quickly these experiences gave me the confidence to create singular work of my own with ideas and interests in finding my voice.This is extremely important. Its what’s makes you different from everyone else in developing your distinctive style.
I also really loved how inspired I felt when working with large creative teams. Surrounding myself with like minded people who wanted to come along on the journey with me.
Venus Virgin Tomarz (VV2M) is a great example of this. Working with a large team with one direction and having the confidence to work on such a considerable project.
Creating worlds is what I really love to do. Completely surreal fun worlds to experiment and play. Some having a dark side like the fight in VV2M or something in the shadows that isn’t quite right as in Hugger Mugger, or the feeling of loss in Shanghai Shadows. I would never have had the confidence to create such worlds without my experience of working with large teams on my commercial advertising projects.
I have a saying, “if I can see it, I can make it”. Because I’ve got the confidence and that confidence has been driven from my background.
Lanza : Discuss your process in creating the image, creatively and technically?
Earp : I think as with most creatives an idea starts off with a spark. A small moment of clarity that jumps out in front of you. A spark can come from a anywhere, a conversation with a collaborator, or a bad joke, an ordinary object, or from day dreaming a form of inspirational thinking which seems to be is disappearing.
It can come from something that catches my eye like a toy doll which was the spark that inspired Hugger Mugger. It usually starts off with an imagined vision, the image I see is usually full of detail. The type of homes I grew up in, my environment and objects such as the Coffee table, a heater and kitsch wall paper.
The detail is what makes it seem so alive. Your mind is such a powerful imaginative tool. It makes the surreal world seem so real.
The next step I develop is concept. Really start to flesh out those ideas and see what materializes. This can be an emotional ride. Especially once you start digging in deeper and intrenching yourself in the project. Questions arise: who else is in the house, what are they doing, what happens behind closed doors? I proceed to scout the environment. That may be urban landscapes like in Shanghai Shadows or unusual urban interiors in Hugger mugger. These back grounds set the tone and direction for my lighting and style. Its with these initial background cells I storyboard my ideas. VV2M was story boarded first, and then the whole project was produced in the studio. All costuming, poses and story were created. Once I had decided on how I wanted to light Venus, that decision then controlled the environment in which I had to create. As each project develops so does the idea. Hugger Mugger started off from me wanting to create a world for the dolls to live. Straight away I could feel some kind of tension. It’s this tension that seems to be a common thread in my work. The idea that the world isn’t perfect and the more you thrive for perfection the more imperfect it becomes. Growing up as a child I was always told “to never get involved in neighbor’s problems,” or “you never know what happens behind closed doors” This always intrigued me. Later as a teenager I was always drawn to black humor like in the movie ‘Little Murders’ and drama that lived on the edge between passion and violence like in ‘Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf’ potent, flammable subject matter, but also playful, witty and seductive.
Finally with creating worlds, I always want everything in the image to look like it belongs. This is especially true when creating something surreal. My challenge and what I really love doing is making things that don’t usually go together, seamlessly fit. This is often by breaking the rules when you can become very playful. Playfulness is what tricks the viewer and makes them feel at ease.
First of all you have to make viewer stop to capture their intention. Once you do that you need to show them respect for doing so.
Lanza : Where do you think is the optimum point between collaboration versus creative control?
Earp : This is a great question and I think each project has its own rules of collaboration and control. So I suppose the options are always fluid. Collaboration can be with a stylist, makeup artist or fashion designer as in Shanghai Shadows. These collaborations are usually very simple. I show the collaborators my storyboards and pictures of the background cells and we very much stay true to my concept. I am very much the orchestrator and drive all of the ideas. This is very important. I’m very blessed really. There is total trust in the collective group and we very much work together for the one final outcome.
Hugger mugger is a little different. The spark for my idea came from seeing the dolls. So I need to be very clear from the start, that these dolls weren’t made by me but they were created for the project and are very much my muse. They were like working with a model.
Also on a concept level the art exhibition would be an installation with both dolls and Images. It would be all things ‘Hugger Mugger’.
VV2M is more like a true 50/50 collaboration and Venus and I stayed very true to this. Venus came to me with the initial idea and after four hours of chatting and looking through her story boards (a notebook with drawings). I new it was something much bigger! I realized that I could create a whole new world for her story. Her story of transition also aligned itself well with my work. Ideas of change, isolation, identity and anxiety. The stories that can often happen behind closed doors. A world were gender is fluid. I felt like Stanley Kubrick taking on Stephen Kings “The Shining.”
This adaptation stayed true to the initial concept of her transformation, and this really was the story about Venus’s change. The metaphor of Mars to Venus and in the style of Barbarella (the movie).
My interpretation of change, transition and playfulness and a steadfast notion that we had to bring all of this from the past to today and into her future came together from me. It was a perfect inventive collaboration, Venus the performer and my creator of worlds!
Finally, I hope what people understand this collaboration was two very open minded people working together.
Lanza : What are you planning currently, what is your path?
Earp : I’m very excited about working on my own personal and collaborative artistic projects. This involves continuing to explore the areas of change, conflict and identity and also moving into the concepts memory and perception.
At the moment I’m in the preliminary stages of working on a new series playing with the idea of how we remember and how that changes as you get older. How we perceive ourselves and the people around us past and present such as our parents or our relationships.
I’m also really looking forward to how I’m going to create a world based around memory. A world were memory can time travel. I think it will be created from family photographs old and new.
I’m also very excited about my creative journey and the opportunities I have been given.