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Daily Inspiration: Meet Rob Lewine

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rob Lewine.

Hi Rob, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I don’t think of myself as having a story, but I’ve traveled more than a few paths. How I came to be a photographer, which is what I’ve been for most of my professional life, was essentially happenstance.

I was a rock musician in my 20s – played bass with various bands, toured, recorded. After four years, I’d had enough. I didn’t love music any less, but I wasn’t enjoying the life or the lack of meaningful income. I’d been a UCLA film student; when I left the music business, I looked up former classmates who might point me to a job as a cinematographer. At the west coast unit of Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, in Hollywood, I was told they had all the filmmakers they needed, but would I be interested to produce classroom filmstrips? Not knowing what they were (primitive AV presentations), I nonetheless said yes and was given a contract to produce projects in the earth sciences. Turns out the job involved research and writing scripts – and photography. I’d been taking pictures since I was a kid.  I knew I could do this.

Fast-forward: a few years later, I was getting assignments from national magazines. My client base expanded from there.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
What’s a smooth road? A few people know, probably. I didn’t come up against meaningful roadblocks as my career grew – but the near-total collapse of photography for print that arrived in the 1990s seems to me to qualify as a roadblock.

These days little remains of the opportunity to make a substantial living as a photographer or to develop a career over time. The structure that allowed me and my contemporaries to prosper – growing skills through experience, shooting all kinds of situations for publishing empires like Time-Life and others – is greatly diminished now. I suspect younger photographers rarely get the chance to learn on the job these days, which builds versatility. (Newspapers still offer this path if you get to be a staffer.) Magazines would have you photograph a politician one week, a museum the next (or cars, or a cathedral, or travel, or an event), a movie star the week after that. You were expected to be up to these shifts in approach.

Notwithstanding, gifted young shooters seem to rise to the top anyway. Talent is the ultimate calling card.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
As I’ve said, circumstances required that I become a generalist. Magazines depended on photographers to deliver, no matter the assignment. Yet specialists shoot a lot of stuff better than I can. For example, I can photograph food reasonably well. But a food photographer has a much deeper toolkit for shooting food and will knock it out of the park. 

Years ago a New York-based photographer signed to the agents who represented me specialized in photographing splashes and spills – liquids – which he could fashion into anything: a map of the world, for example. He was brilliant and pretty much had the sector to himself.  Earned $1 million annually, in yesterday’s dollars.

My core strength is environmental portraiture. I love staging, lighting and photographing people; I’ve been at it for many years. Probably this is what I’m best known for.

What sets me apart from others? Not for me to say. But I’m practiced at getting people to relax and enjoy the experience of being photographed.

Can you talk to us a bit about the role of luck?
I don’t believe in luck. Good things happen, bad things happen. Most of the time life is lived at a comfortable level. This could be considered good luck – if there were such a thing.

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All images: copyright 2021 Rob Lewine

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