"My book Natural Beauty was to set be printed in Italy in the summer of 2001. Before heading there, I decided to take a 4,000-mile road trip from Los Angeles to work on this book," remembers Farber. "I got as far as Dodge City, Kansas, when I got the call to go to Italy. I saw this ladder leaning while I was driving down a back alley in Arizona."
Timing Is Everything
Farber's book showcases an America that is quietly resilient, a time and lifestyle people want to recapture. He cites one of the book's most popular images—that of a classic cowboy:
"That shot was taken while I was teaching a workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one year. The fellow who ran the ranch was a real cowboy. There was this beautiful sunlight, and I wanted to take his portrait. He was ready to stand up and smile, but I asked him instead to put his head down a little," recalls Farber.
Shooting with everything from a Minox spy camera to his Canon EOS-1n or another of his Canons, Farber has even started shooting digitally with his Canon EOS-1Ds, with a bunch of SanDisk CF cards close at hand.
"I'm starting to really use digital, but for me it doesn't have the personality of the films. I like to work with grain and things that bring the viewer back to the look of a painting," says Farber. "But, digital is clean. I have found a way to work with it in-camera, not in post-production. It's a matter of using filters, maybe long shutter speeds to get a blur, and maybe underexposing it. When I upload and open the image it appears to have a bit of grain."
He credits his roots in commercial work—which didn't allow for post-production manipulation—with giving him the ability to maintain a fine art look in all of his images.
Photographers starting out today in the digital world are not always as disciplined as we had to be, he says.
"Shooting for fashion and advertising, we shot chrome and what you shot is what you got. There were no darkrooms, no manipulations. You had to do everything all at the time of your shoot, using filters and so forth. To me that was the best discipline you could get for somebody who really wants to learn photography."
Galleries: Offline and On
Brought on, perhaps, by the publication of American Mood, Farber has renewed interest in creating gallery shows. His latest show, built around the book, enjoyed considerable success.
"I'd always gone with the G. Ray Hawkins Gallery in Los Angeles, but this time, Timothy Yarger Fine Art in Beverly Hills approached me," says Farber. "Because it's a fine art gallery, the buyers are collectors. The gallery's been selling my work and escalating its value more than any photography gallery ever did."
Most of Farber's photographs at Timothy Yarger range from 24"x36" to 40"x60," with the largest being his 15-foot mural of 'Running Horses.' These inkjet pigment prints were made on Legion Somerset fine art velvet papers—the smaller ones in his studio, the larger ones at Duggal in New York or Nash Editions in California.
Farber has also been spending more time enhancing his personal website, www.farber.com, and that of his virtual reality/interactive teaching studio, www.photoworkshop.com. Built in 1995 with the help of Davenport, Iowa-based website designer Daniel Layton, it went live in early 1996.
Today, the site receives some 4 million page views monthly, and a new reading room section for the site is in the works.
Yes, Farber has shifted his priorities from commercial products and nudes toward more personal projects. But it's not such a dramatic move. It's just part of this creative's evolving pursuit of light, texture, and beauty.
Editor's Note: Robert Farber will be speaking at the PhotoImaging & Design Expo in San Diego, California, April 19-21, 2005. Don't miss him!