Photography, architecture, fibers, and textiles are all elements utilized by artist Robin Becker. A lover of travel, Becker admits she is inspired by her trips around the world. Her most recent series “Here to There” features portraits representing historical and contemporary stories of immigration.
In 2016 she photographed window-lit interiors of the Ellis Island Hospital. She recalled, “It was something of a modern archeological ruin. I found the site to be alive and profound, leading me to a fascination with the immigrant experience and the search for the ‘American dream,’” Becker decided to look back at her own personal family archives and the Ellis Island website to find faces with character and strength among early 20th century immigrants. “I combined these with my own panoramic photo-assemblages of the hospital to create these works. In each of these pieces the architectural light, whether natural or painted, evokes time and memory, revealing rooms where these people look out at us or sometimes appear floating, ghost-like, suggesting their unknown but universal story.”
Becker was inspired by her visit to Ellis Island and created “Dress Above.” In this artwork Becker placed a delicate dress in layers of silk floating above a circular hallway, created by doctors who in 1902 thought germs only traveled in straight lines!
Q: Of all the places that you have been, do you have a favorite?
A: Oaxaca and Greece
Q: Can you tell me about your visit to Oaxaca?
A: I participated in a week-long photo workshop taught by Gary Goldberg.
Q: What did the workshop entail?
A: It was an intense time of experiencing the rich creative life in and around the city. The architecture and colorful intensity of the exterior walls conceals from view the life people and their families lead. Once inside the interior architecture reveals interconnected courtyards and shelters fostering open air living, homes rich in textiles, and hand made objects.
Q: Did you get to meet the local artists?
A: I visited distinct villages, each dedicated to a particular type of work: weavers, ceramicists, wood carvers and other crafts. Our photography group shared thoughts and ideas with local photographers and artists.
Q: What kind of experience did you have in Greece?
A: In 1980 and 1982 with my husband James Chressanthis, I lived in a Greek mountain village from the end of winter to the summer wheat harvest. Lynistaina is my husband’s grandfathers village. We produced the documentary film “Remembrance of a Journey to the Village” (PBS, 1983) for which I shot the still photographs.
Q: What was that like?
A: At the time we lived in the village about 150 people resided there, today about 40 mostly older people live there year round. In the summer and holidays all the families from the Athens come up to stay and celebrate. The schools have closed years ago so there are no children that live there full time
Q: What was your favorite part of it?
A: We became a part of this community of one hundred fifty self sufficient shepherd-farmers and their families. They had no cars, no running water and only one telephone and one television. I experienced the beautiful fabric of a timeless existence: carrying water, planting the crops, weaving, socializing, playing backgammon in the one taverna, going to church, sharing hardships and celebrations, a wedding, a baptism, a funeral, baking bread, making cheese or roasting a lamb, culminating in the harvesting the crops.
Q: Did you have a favorite cuisine?
A: The food in Oaxaca is amazing!!! We ate at many restaurants that had chefs that have really pushed all native foods.
Q: Why do you think travel is important?
A: The visuals bring inspiration. In Naxos, Greece we went to a village of weavers. There are very few weavers left in Greece.
Q: What city or country has inspired your work?
A: All of them. Greece, Oaxaca, Paris, Italy
Q: Did you learn any new techniques from any of the international artists that you encountered?
A: I was inspired by Citlali Fabian, a photographer. She built her own 8 x 10 camera to photographic portraits of the women showing their ancestral roots. She develops her projects using modern film and 19th century processes as Wet Plate Collodion and Daguerreotype.
Robin Becker has exhibited her work internationally and nationally including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Tucson Museum, Tucson, AZ; Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ; Arizona State University Museum Gallery, Tempe, AZ; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Museum Gallery, Kalamazoo, Michigan; Mitchell Museum Main Gallery, Mt Vernon, ILL; Southern Illinois University Museum at Fanner Hall, Carbondale, IL; and in Japan: the Aoyma Gallery, Aoyma, Japan; Nakazawa Gallery and the Heartland Gallery, Tokyo, Japan.
Her work is in private and public collections of Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas, the Atlanta Power Company, Atlanta, Georgia and various private collections in the USA, Japan, France, and Germany. Becker received her BFA in Printmaking and studied architecture at Arizona State University and earned her MFA in Fibers and Photography from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She lives and works in Topanga Canyon, California. She has established multiple temporary studio locations in Pittsburgh, New York, New Orleans, and Vancouver, Canada.