Born in Texas and raised in Michigan, Rob Woodcox is a surrealist photographer who embraces nature, life and everything that goes with it. Whilst often creating strange landscapes and haunting characters within his photographs, he also dabbles in fashion photography and teaches. Surrealism is about challenging ideas and perspectives of the natural world that we live in. Rob Woodcox has harnessed surrealism within photography, often depicting humans in various sorts of poses and interacting with all sorts of objects. Much like Brooke Shaden, Rob Woodcox photographs his subjects with an intended purpose or meaning.
Originally dreaming as a child to become a pilot, city planner, or the master gardener at Disney World, Rob Woodcox has certainly pursued his strive for creativity and innovation. Now, instead of creating Mickey Mouse hedges at Disneyland, he’s creating dream like images that have claimed him much recognition across the globe, which includes being the winner of Canon/Ron Howard’s Project Imagination for the image below.
Talking all things inspiration, surrealism, and the planning of photographs, our interview with Rob Woodcox is below.
Hi Rob how are you?
Great thanks for asking! I’m actually dancing with excitement at the moment as I’m about to leave for New York to spend a week making art and attending the Project Imagination Film Premiere by Canon & Ron Howard. It hasn’t quite sunk in that its real!
First off, tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, what you wanted as your career as a child…
Sure, I was born in Texas, raised in Michigan. I visited my family in Texas so much as a child that I always considered myself to still have southern blood. Through travelling and camping a ton as a child I developed a love for the road, and always dreamed of being something that would involve travel. My daydreams for a future job ranged from being a pilot or city planner, to being the master gardener at Disney World. Ha, I actually remember being determined to design all those beautiful Mickey Mouse shaped hedges… little did I know I’d actually end up in a career that involves set building after all! I have always been a dreamer though!
What do you enjoy most and least about living where you are?
Living in Michigan has a lot of perks. I feel like Michigan is an under rated state, but we have so many great things, such as the Great Lakes- basically fresh water oceans that are much better for swimming than salt water! We also have great seasons, unlike my native southern Texas that pretty much has hot or hotter. I also love our lush forests.
As an artist, living near Detroit is amazing as well; many know of Detroit’s seasons of plight, however most people have no idea what a growing art community the town has. With anything that has been destroyed, artists are the perfect people to transform that destruction into something beautiful. There is a lot of beauty overtaking the city of Detroit and I look forward to witnessing a strong comeback!
My one beef with Michigan is the length of winter… basically 6-8 months depending on the year. Other than that I love it!
Surrealism makes for interesting subject matter. What set you on the path of taking surrealist photographs?
Early on in learning photography, which I started in late 2009, I developed a desire to communicate thought-provoking concepts and ideas through my images. I never liked the idea of just taking a photo for fun or to make a pretty picture. I guess with my head being in the clouds so often and having a child-like spirit, my ideas just tend to be more surreal. Of course I have had inspirations that have opened my mind to thinking more surreal, such as Eugenio Recuenco, Annie Leibovitz, Tim Walker.
Tell us about the process of coming up with an idea. Everyone works so differently. Do you write them down, photograph them straight away or let it plan out a bit and expand on it?
My process for coming up with ideas can vary depending on the scenario. Sometimes I’m in a beautiful, grungy or unique environment and my mind just envisions something on the spot. On occasion when that happens, I’ll shoot a concept right then and there.
More often however, I location scout and keep those places in mind to develop ideas later. I’ll often just take some time to listen to music or walk through the woods, and as I let my mind drift it will envision scenes taking place in a variety of environments. That space and time alone to think allows my mind to piece ideas together. Once I have ideas, I do tend to journal them and keep a large list of concepts for future reference. I like giving my favorite concepts time to expand and grow in my mind, which also gives me time to gather resources when needed!
What is the most challenging aspect about the work you do and how have you overcome that in the past?
One of the most challenging parts of the work I create is translating my art into making a living. Not because its hard to convince people of my worth, but rather because its hard to convey the elaborate ideas in my mind to a client and get them to understand how fantastic it is! People enjoy my finished product, but its hard to convey the epic nature from the beginning. I have become much better at speaking theatrically while touching on emotions in order to convey my ideas better.
The best thing is when a client comes to me and lets me be free to create from my own vision. Of course there is an occasional gulp of fear, hoping the client will indeed like what I create, but I haven’t run into any angry customers yet!
Modern Surrealism in photography often involves a lot of post-production. Did you learn that by yourself or how did you go about learning the techniques of multiplying objects and setting up the shot in post?
I would say the surrealist images I create tend to involve an equal amount of pre and post-production. It is important to set up your shots in pre-production to a point that they will seamlessly work together in post. I learned a lot of the basics of how to work my camera and compose an image and things like that through a few years of schooling, however mastering the techniques I use in post required countless hours of experimentation on my own time. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve just gone exploring through the tools in Photoshop and spent hours tweaking and messing with them.
People like to draw inspiration from absolutely everywhere. Dreams, life events, other people, paintings…where do you draw your inspiration from and how does it help you to visualize the final outcome of a photograph?
Every source you just listed is a source of inspiration for my artwork. Like I mentioned before, I often take time alone to conceptualize ideas, and often my mind will wander to past experiences, emotions I’ve been feeling lately, or things I have seen that inspire me. I am very moved by anything that is vibrant or very emotionally provoking; for example, paintings that took hours to create; richly colored illustrations; dancers performing something elaborate; a person coping with a life struggle; the list goes on! My dreams are often inspirations for my images as well.
What has been one of the most interesting experiences whilst out photographing?
One of the most hilarious experiences I’ve had while photographing took place during a large artist meetup I attended in Los Angeles last year. I had this concept to illustrate people being caged in by their fear, a second image in a series confronting global human struggles, the first image being one of my more known pieces “All In Our Boxes”.
Well, the concept of “Kept In Cages” was very dark, but the creation process became one of the funniest I’ve ever had. I asked 10-12 of my friends to get close to naked and all pile into an actual cage that we found in an abandoned zoo. The thing is, the zoo is a public park now, and so tons of people were walking by here and there, completely in shock that I was photographing a bunch of stacked, ‘naked’ people in a cage. To top it off, I was wearing a ridiculous fur jacket because it was cold… needless to say my friends weren’t laughing until they had successfully thawed, post shoot!
Most surrealist or fine art photographers often associate their photographs with a certain message. What is the most powerful or emotional message you have depicted with a photograph you have taken and how did you go about planning the shoot?
One of the most powerful messages I’ve conveyed along with an image is one of self-discovery. Here is a short write-up that accompanied my original post of the image “The Discovery of Oneself” on flickr:
“Finding ourselves can feel like a game of smoke and mirrors; trying one thing, failing and then trying ten more. By the time we’ve completed all these trials and errors, it can often seem bewildering. Peers, parents, leaders and teachers can all complicate the matter by telling us who they think we should be. It is acceptable to be uncertain of your future and not know all the answers, for in fact no one has all of the answers. The advice of others is indeed important, but never lose control of your own intuitions. God and you know yourself the best, and only in that relationship can you truly find your direction in life. We are very multifaceted beings; there are many depths to our labyrinthine souls. Take delight in knowing that you will always learn more about yourself, for you were created with more purpose than can ever be known.”
I think it is so important for us to be comfortable with our own identity and to be true and honest when expressing ourselves to others. Without fully loving ourselves, how can we expect to love others and make a difference in the world for good? Changing the world starts with changing yourself.
If you could collaborate with another photographer in any other style, who would it be and why?
If I could collaborate with any other current day photographer with a different style, I would have to choose Joey Lawrence. I extremely admire his work with tribes in Africa that have previously been walked all over and falsely represented by western culture and the movie industry. I have a passion to create art for the purpose of giving a voice to the voiceless, and Joey Lawrence clearly shares a similar passion. Not only is Joey’s work admirable, but he also creates such high quality images- every shot is beautifully crafted, full of vibrant tones and colors, and they each evoke emotion and a sense of story, yet in a completely different style than any of my work. He also seems like a cool guy to hang with, which is important in the world of artists- aint nobody got time for snobs!
You can check out his project “People of the Delta” here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/joeyl/people-of-the-delta-film-project
What sort of camera do you like to work with and do you ever feel the need for change sometimes?
I currently work with a 5d mkII and love the quality. I would like to invest in some new lenses soon to attempt new looks in my work!
You also mentor and teach. What’s the most rewarding aspect about doing that?
Everything about teaching others is so rewarding. I think the most rewarding part is helping others to see past the limits they’ve created in their minds. We all do it, create limits for ourselves, not believing we can go past a certain point. However I believe people or experiences can change that for each of us! I know for me, some of my closest friends and teachers pushed me past settling for an ordinary life. I like to think that I have the opportunity to do the same for my students!
Anyone interested in taking a workshop or mentoring with me can feel free to use the contact form on my website: www.robwoodcox.com/contact/
If you could say one thing to a large group of people from around the world, old and young, what would it be?
If I could say one thing to people of the world it would be to fully embrace love. Of course that alone is a simple statement, but I mean to really embrace it. I don’t believe fear and love can exist in the same moment, one overpowers the other. I would tell people to be bold and do those things they’re too afraid to do and to let their love shine through that triumph. I believe when we are truly free and living a spontaneous life, it allows our spirits to truly be released, and for love to emanate from our souls. I also believe that God is love, and only when our hearts are fully open can we discover that.