Robert Farber Captures an America Gone By
A country so young, yet so rich in history; so full of moments that instantly bring us back to a place of comfort and innocence. This is the America that Robert Farber captures in his latest book, American Mood.
As compelling and comforting as the book is, American Mood raised some questions: "What inspired Farber's dramatic leap from classic fine art nudes to scenes of Americana? Are we witnessing a major career shift? If so, why now?
Looking for answers, I met with Farber—a man whose images have inspired thousands of photographers and earned critical acclaim—and listened intently as he put into context the common threads, driving passion, and defining moments that have shaped his art over the years. It became clear to me that Robert Farber was, is, and will forever be a painter with a passion for light, texture, and beauty. Everything else is detail.
Events Spanning Time
Much as a bridge connects two or more destinations, several events in Farber's career, have formed a natural path, connecting the past with the present. Farber recalls: "One of my first shoots was for a fashion magazine called Diva, which was owned by Guccione and Penthouse. Every top fashion photographer and model wanted to work with Diva because it let photographers do whatever they wanted. I did a fashion layout on an old train spoofing Murder on the Orient Express, called 'Murder on the Oregon Express.' I always loved that retro look of America…"
It was during commercial shoots such as this one that Farber began collecting images for American Mood, dating back to about 1969. "The idea for putting these images together only came to me about five years ago," says Farber, who likens his photographs to paintings because he started out as a painter. "I was inspired by the Flemish and Impressionist painters."
And although he had begun recording moments that were more photojournalistic in nature after graduating from the University of Miami, "it wasn't until later on, when I started making technical mistakes, that I realized how it creatively satisfied me the way painting did. And because of mistakes I made—such as photographing in the wrong kind of light—my photographs started to look like the work of painters I most admired."
From there, Farber started entering outdoor art shows, where "people responded to my 'painterly-looking' images."
While Farber's images of the female form have brought him a great deal of celebrity, his entry into that field was quite unexpected.
Explains Farber: "Once I started going to outdoor art shows people started asking me, 'Could you put a model in this scene?' So, I fell into doing nudes through fine art photography, which led to fashion, beauty, and skin product assignments. But the thing I always enjoyed most was going off by myself and taking pictures—without people."
In fact, parts of his earlier book, By the Sea, and American Mood, were shot while he was away on commercial assignments.
"I had a Wrangler jeans campaign that went on for years," says Farber. "As I was doing it, I started really getting into Americana and shooting in the West and Southwest. We did a shoot with a well-known rodeo singer in Wyoming. I rented a motor home in Denver to be able to shoot more Americana things."
The diner image that became the iconic cover photo of American Mood was also created on the road. "I was on the way back from doing a lecture in New England at the Hallmark Institute. I saw this diner on a small highway and backed up and shot it through the window, with my Canon EOS-1n and Agfa Pan 400 black-and-white film," explains Farber.
Another solo trip netted that somewhat mysterious ladder image from American Mood (p. 27).