Rob Woodcox is a fine art and fashion photographer currently splitting time between Mexico City, Los Angeles, and New York City. He exercises his talent for photography with a passion that is unquenchable and contagious. His passion for photography has developed into a dedication to advocacy; he has produced projects raising consciousness and conversation around the US foster system and adoption, queer identity, body neutrality, racial equality, and environmental justice. Having been adopted as a child and interacting often with the foster care system, Rob creates - from a unique perspective - finding hope in human connection and the will to overcome negative constructs within our complex societies.
We are always interested in the life experiences and processes that lead artists to where they are now. Tell us about your case, from the first spark of interest to the realization that this is what you want to dedicate your life to.
Photography began as a fascination of technology and process for me; since childhood, I had disposable cameras in my hand, but I never thought about photography as a craft or art form until my late teen years. It was in my first year of college that I felt drawn to working with a sturdier camera and learning how the settings worked in unison to create an intentional photograph. I began working on 35mm film and developing the negatives and prints myself in the darkroom. As I explored, I started relating my own internally developing imaginations to the process of scenes developing on the chemical soaked papers in the darkroom. I instantly fell in love and went through quite an obsessive phase of creating new work. In the beginning, I had no concept of light, composition, or style, I simply had ideas that I felt I needed to get onto paper. The process was catharsis at its finest and I continued to create with digital SLR cameras, falling in love with the instant gratification allowing me to process my ideas and concepts faster. Since the beginning, I attempted to tell stories with my portraits, and eventually, they just got bigger, more surreal, and more cohesive technically. When I look back at my first work it almost feels like looking at a different person; perhaps it is.
What inspires you?
Every detail of life inspires me; I love all the pieces that come together to create our experienced reality, both simple and difficult. I find it important to embrace the darkest moments we face, along with the joyous ones. I’ve always been drawn to nature and I find solace and inspiration spending time there. I’m inspired by intimate human connection and the journey of finding that. I also thoroughly enjoy experiencing all other artistic expressions and how they inform my own artistic experience.
Your works often combine the dynamism of the human body with stunning landscapes and architecture. What do you look for in these two worlds and what emerges from the synergy between them?
Humans are nature, and from the symbiotic relationship we’ve had with our environment in the past we have developed every aspect of modern society; from studying the bonding abilities of different raw elements to make homes and buildings, to watching animal patterns of hunting, harvesting and nurturing, to capturing energy from wind, water, etc. Our human world as we know it wouldn’t be possible without all of the hard work the ecosystems of our planet put in to make this Earth livable.
Through my art, I aim to capture the unity humans have the ability to pursue with our environment to create a better existence for all. The images are symbols of achieving that harmony. Imagine the improved living conditions of our entire world if corporations and governments worked together to provide better food solutions that didn’t deplete natural resources, or energy transitioned from highly pollutant processes to entirely renewable energy sources. Imagine if we took the measures necessary to prevent 1/3 of our habitable land from turning to desert in the coming decades. We have the solutions, and my art aims to look towards that future while educating current generations about the problems.
Your creations frequently depict people as building blocks of intricate structures. What message does this convey about our connections and collaborative interactions?
We are so much stronger together. The phrase “it takes a village” has now become “it takes a global society”. We are so interconnected that something as simple as someone starting a small fire while camping can cause a devastating wildfire that impacts millions. On the other hand, a single smile or kind deed can start a chain of positive events that offsets pain and sadness by starting a whole internet campaign of kind deeds. We’re stronger and simultaneously more vulnerable than we’ve ever been as a species, and therefore now is the time to act as one, as a team, to create positive change that includes everyone.
You are not only a remarkable artist but also an advocate, deeply committed to raising awareness about the US foster system and adoption, queer identity, body neutrality, racial equality, and environmental justice. How do these two facets of yourself interact, and how does your art channel your thoughts and message?
I was adopted when I was a baby and then started volunteering with foster kids when I was a teenager. I’ve always seen the world through a lens of gratitude for the privileges I have. Not everyone has the same privileges and therefore it's important to me that I use my art to extend education and conversation surrounding equality and justice for all people groups. Art gives an individual the opportunity to express their deepest emotions, desires, and passions, and so those are the parts of me that I aim to channel through my photography.
Can you walk us through your creative process, from the inception of an idea to the final piece?
My creative process at the beginning sort of reminds me of developing film in the darkroom. I often meditate on concepts and as I focus on the feelings or emotions, a visual starts to form in my mind, hazy at first, until it reaches clarity. I always write these ideas down with as much relevant detail as I need to remember in the future. Once I’ve captured it, I can then expand to form a more robust concept with locations, models, etc. I then pull all the necessary talent together and create the piece(s), usually in a day or two or over a small trip to the destination. Everything comes together in post-production over 1-2 days and then I release a piece or save it for the appropriate time.
How does your experience in fashion photography influence your other creative pursuits?
I adore fashion, I’ve found that dressing up and entering the streets often draws like-minded and open-minded people in my direction. It's this subtle form of communication that can make a statement with no words. I wear almost entirely handmade, local, repurposed, and sustainable designers, so my clothing often starts conversations about the environment and sustainability as well. I like incorporating fashion into my work, whether it's the statement of nudity, wearing paint, or wearing clothing. I enjoy pushing gender boundaries and extending the body to its surroundings through fashion. I’ve designed pieces before in my work and I think designing a clothing line would be really fun. I’m looking forward to a new film project as well that will use fashion as part of the narrative to tell a story. The possibilities are endless.
You recently reached another milestone in your remarkable career, with the publication of Bodies of Light, a book showcasing your photographs. Tell us about the concept behind this project.
I couldn’t be more excited to have a book out! I never thought I’d publish a book so early in my career, but it's also remarkable to have a book that covers my first decade of being a photographer. The book takes the viewer on a stylized journey through different series of works, weaving them together with poetry I wrote while in creative retreat. It explores my fine art and fashion work, each image throughout feeling like a showcase of different characters from the same universe. I’m quite proud of the work my publishing team did to bring this to fruition, you can pick up a copy and see for yourself here: https://shopcatalog.com/product/bodies-of-light/
You divide your time between the US and Mexico. What are the differences and similarities between the creative energy in these two places? How do they contribute to your art?
The energies of the US and Mexico are strikingly different. Mexico has a warmer, more joyous energy that compels you to run free and explore all the possibilities of life. People have really welcomed me in there and taught me to live in the moment and appreciate more. The US has a more robust drive for financial success that seems built into every corner of society; people often ask me how much money I’m making or who’s the biggest person I’ve worked with much quicker in a conversation. The difference in priorities is evident, however, I find both to be valuable energy for surviving and thriving as an artist. There is a balance to be had between working hard and enjoying life, and I try to find priority in both.
Another remarkable feature about you is your dedication to teaching photography, giving seminars and workshops to students throughout the world. What are your feelings about these experiences?
I love teaching; nothing is more rewarding than seeing the light in someone's eyes as they experience a breakthrough in their own journey or craft. Early in my career, I cold-called sponsors to fund world tours teaching photography, and to my delight, I received many opportunities this way. What I was met with exceeded my expectations- I think I learned more from my students collectively than I ever could have taught. Traveling teaches us so many facets of beauty through how other people and cultures live, think and express. Combining that with my specific craft of photography allowed for extremely rich growth and deep connections that have lasted in all the years since.
Can you give us a glimpse of what to expect from you in the future?
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m in pre-production for my first two short films. I can’t give away the details yet, but they’re going to be as if my photographic concepts came to life. I’ll also be showing work at quite a few more galleries and museums over the next years and can’t wait to have conversations with new audiences all over the world. I’m excited to put my all into these new endeavors and look forward to the interpersonal and community experiences these will lead to.