The photographs in Nicole Robinson’s Abstraction: Tidal Obsession collection seem almost dreamlike. Which is interesting, because she’s a landscape and nature photographer. We’re used to precise, intricately detailed photos of our natural world, but her pictures are often soft, blurred at the edges and alluringly indistinct.
In her work, a patch of marsh grass blends its blades together into a green haze; a shoreline photo merges sand, ocean, and horizon into panoramic layers, differentiated only by their colors. In fact, many of the photos in the Tidal Obsession collection, which can be viewed at the Lowcountry Artists Gallery starting this Fri. April 5, look less like photographs and more like abstract paintings.
It’s an effect Robinson accomplishes by combining digital photography, long shutter speeds, and a small aperture that lets in the minimal amount of light, which lends her photos a sort of otherworldly, muted glow. Taken as a whole, the collection is quite an accomplishment, especially from someone who still has to pursue photography in her spare time.
“I’m a building contractor by trade,” Robinson says, “and I’ve worked on outside sales. But my passion has always been photography. I did quite a bit of it in high school and college, and then life got in the way. But I’ve always felt like I was a photographer at heart, for sure.”
Robinson made the switch from traditional photography to digital back in 2008 because she felt that it gave her more control over what she was trying to convey in her pictures.
“It’s kind of instant gratification,” she says. “You know instantly that you were able to capture the moment. In the old days, you’d have to wait until you were in the darkroom to find out if you’d gotten the right image. You’d have to hope that you remembered to put all of your settings in the right place, I think with digital, I’ve learned you can quickly create the image that you want and move on.”
The image that Robinson wants often isn’t clear even to her; she’s responding more to an emotion than a specific idea.
“I think that people are often imagining some kind of postcard image,” she says. “The grass is perfect; the color is bright. But a lot of my images, there’s something else that attracts me to them. Sometimes I’m standing in front of a marsh and I’ll see a color or a light, and there’s a certain feel to it. There’s something there that draws me to it, whether it’s the wind or water or the light or the time of day. Sometimes I’ll be driving and get something in my peripheral vision, and I have to go back to it. I’ll see people standing in the same spot, staring at the sunrise and waiting for that big orange ball to rise into the sky, and I’m turned the other way because that sun is lighting up a beautiful sand dune or marsh grass or a tidal pool.”
Precision isn’t the point, in other words, which is handy because Robinson says she often discovers the best images in the worst conditions.
“I’m often in less than optimal situations in which to photograph,” she says. “But I feel like you can get really pretty pictures under less-than-optimal circumstances. The weather was terrible, it was foggy and gray, but I was able to capture a moment that took my breath away.”
But perhaps there’s another unspoken reason why Robinson has worked so hard to capture the feelings that Charleston’s marshlands and shorelines evoke for her; due to the increasing number of damaging storms, flooding and hurricanes that the coastline has endured over the last few years, she’s often photographing places that won’t look the same the next time she sees them.
“I’ll go back to some of these places after a hurricane or large storm and they’re completely different,” she says. “The landscape completely changes. The story is always evolving, so you have to keep sharing what you can.”
But even if those who come see Robinson’s Tidal Obsession collection don’t walk away feeling the same way she does about the shoreline landscape of Charleston, she’ll be happy if they walk away with some sort of strong emotion.
“I really want them to feel SOMETHING,” she says. “For me, it’s about enjoying what’s right in front of us, but I don’t want to influence their viewpoint or perspective. All I’ve ever wanted is for people to feel something from my work.” Love Best of Charleston? Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.
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