Beyond the shutter, the film, and the camera, Robert Saint Rich creates a world of his own with his eerie black and white photographs. The 24-year-old photographer originally from New Jersey has a distinctive eye and touch with images that set him apart. His magical lens, hand manipulations, and strong visuals made him more than a photographer as a multimedia and visual artist in which he mixes photographs, drawings, and poetry.
His latest project, From the Room Where the Bed is Made but the Heart is Broken, combines his photographs along with a poem he wrote and alterations of his pictures. Shot on Lomography Berlin Kino B&W ISO for pigmented black and pure whites and beautiful grain, Robert's photos are as profound as his poems. We talked to him about his latest project, his inspiration, and his love for film!
Hello Robert, it's great to talk to you again at Lomography. First off can you tell us more about this series? How did you decide to shoot it?
From the Room Where the Bed is Made but the Heart is Broken went through an iterative design process since its conception before the series was finalized. With regards to how it was shot, the series was always intended on being heavily contrasted with rich blacks and shadows. I wanted the photographs to be minimal when considering the visual weight of the composition, resulting in the interaction between the shapes formed by the negative space and the figure in the frame being a priority when composing the images.
Did you write the poem before or after taking the pictures?
After the series was conceptualized and I had decided that I would pair writing with my photographs, I had first intended on collaborating with one of the most gifted writers that I know — a woman named Amanda Burkhart. Eventually, the decision was made for this to be kept as a solo project.
The inspiration for the poem was written months before the idea for this project was conceived. This inspiration being five words written in my notepad — “my head’s on my pillow”. I began writing the narrative for the series after selecting the final images that would be shown. The written piece first began as a short fictional story, and eventually grew into the poem published here.
Thank you to Amanda for helping me flesh out the concept for this series. Without your words of encouragement, I would not have been confident enough to produce the piece how it is shown. Your sincerity in your form of expression is fearless and nothing short of inspiring.
How was the process of writing it?
The processes of writing From the Room Where the Bed is Made but the Heart is Broken began with a thought that was inspiring enough for me to physically write down and hold on to. From this, I began working in a small notebook, giving a narrative to the original idea. Once I had my narrative, I moved to a computer and produced several variations, letting my thoughts flow. I picked my favorite and consulted with my close friends, Chris and Sterling, and then reworked it from their critiques.
Which black and white Lomography film did you use for this series? How did it complement the vision you had in mind?
For this series, I used Lomography’s Berlin Kino 35mm black and white film. This was the first time I had used this film stock, so I wasn’t completely sure how the stock would work about what I was envisioning for the concept. I knew that the personality of the stock was dynamic with high latitude and that the grain in my images would be fairly coarse. I decided on processing this film with a Kodak D-76 developer for a general application and standard contrast. The benefit to shooting this film with this type of processing allowed me to control the level of contrast as much as I needed in post, and the coarseness of the grain provided texture that would carry the emotion of the piece.
What’s the idea behind the editing process and the process of having both pictures as a diptych?
I have enjoyed working in diptych format over the last few years and utilize it whenever I can. The visual elements of presenting side by side images worked for the concept I had with this series. The pure photograph symbolizes the ‘made bed’ - everything here is how it should be. The edited photograph visualizes the expression that she ‘made her bed’ - anything and everything that had happened here was her own doing. The photographs presented in diptych carries the narrative of the poem where she made her bed and now her heart is broken.
Do you see this project as being part of a bigger series?
All of my works stem from my personal experiences and share the same visual elements, so I suppose a case could be made that all of my works are a part of the same series. I like to use similar ideas and title conventions across everything that I create to form a sense of unity amongst my works as they serve to capture the emotional spectrum and the human experience. Specifically, though, this is the end of From the Room Where the Bed is Made but the Heart is Broken.
Why do you still shoot film?
Film has given me an incredibly personal relationship with photography that digital photographs could not achieve. I am an artist who is heavily dependent on the physical aspects of my work, and having the tactile relationship with my film was enough of a reason to never even own a digital camera. While I don’t necessarily believe that shooting film is really any more difficult than shooting digitally, film photography does require the artist to be more precise in execution and composition. It’s this challenge with intent and objective precision that drives my excitement to shoot every time I load a roll of film into my camera. Printing in a darkroom only enhances the physical relationship I have with my photographs.