10 Questions with RLI Photography

by Sharp | March 7, 2012

Last week, our creative director Bob Ireland hosted an exhibit of his photography to benefit the Sylvia Center

Top: The Five Elements exhibition, bottom: “Sway”

and help launch the soon-to-be-open gallery space at 317 Madison Street.

Bob has been passionate about photography for many years, and his show, The Five Elements, showcases his attention on singular moments in nature.

We were all excited to explore his first collection in public, and I’ve asked him a few questions to dive in a bit deeper.


1. Let’s start at the beginning.  How did you get into photography?

Well it started many moons ago, I’d say it was 1977 or so when my mother got me a Kodak Instamatic camera.  I got a little carried away with it, snapping away without film and processing costs top of mind.  My first roll was pretty focused on the outdoors – flowers, trees, landscapes etc. which is funny given that’s what part of I’m drawn to now.  Our family dogs were also subjects and pretty patient ones too, my sisters, not so much.

2. Who/what are your influences?  Which artists are you really into right now?

Well this will sound ambiguous, but light.  I have always been fascinated by the light of day from sunrise to long 5 o’clock shadows and dusk.  Even moonlight gets me going especially on the ocean, reminds me of the Stones song Moonlight Mile.  Aside from light, the natural world is beyond inspiring and can be seen in so many ways.  At least for me it can, which is beyond gratifying.

Artists, well Andreas Gursky’s photography is inspiring to say the least and I have gotten into more contemporary fine art — Richard Prince (the nurses), and a fellow Pakpoom Silaphan who’s work I saw in London recently.  He blends artists portraits and branding in a kind of old gas station signage form, very cool.  And as recent as Sunday the Venezuelan artist Rafael Barrios has installed these amazing stainless steel geometric images on Park Avenue.

3. If you had to describe your photography in 3 words (a copy-writer challenge!), which would you use?  Have those words changed over the years?

“Get It Now.”  I am all about the moment.  I sometimes never know when I am going to get that shot and that’s the best and scariest.  You simply have to move quickly and adeptly to capture it all.  It hasn’t really radically changed, but evolved over time I’d say.

4. When we’re working on ad campaigns for clients, there are always a lot of restrictions.  Your photography is completely free.  Is there a challenge that comes with that level of freedom?  How are the processes different?

Well I guess with advertising you have a very well defined target audience both demographically and psychographically and you have to deliver creatively on a proposition that will move them to basically buy something or at least make an inquiry.  With photography it’s about what I see, but I still keep audiences in mind, albeit not too literally.  Sometimes I joke around that when someone says I should take a picture of something that’s it’s a good time not too.  So yes, there is incredible freedom to try and capture what you want but don’t forget about the challenges of light, speed, frame and focus.  And with regards to people liking what you have, you just need to believe in yourself and position it in the right manner, that cue I take from some of the greatest living contemporary artists today.

5. Tell me a bit about the experience of putting together Five Elements.

Well I’d say it harkens back to my earliest influences – the natural world – which is expressed via water, earth, wood, fire and metal.  In pulling together a body of work for a first exhibition, my advisers thought that a range would best suit even if I have a certain signature style.  A lot of my work is of the natural world (i.e., flowers, forests, landscapes, animals, lakes, ocean etc.) so it just came to together.  It’s funny have creativity has the ability to accomplish that.  We were also focused on having the exhibition align with The Sylvia Center mission and some of the elements of the 371 Madison Building, so natural elements played well.

Left: “Yes Darling I am Listening”, center: “Ethanol High”, right: “Milk”


6. What is the inspiration behind the unique titles? They are unexpected – “Yes Darling I am Listening”“Ethanol High”“Milk”… Do you know the titles when you shot or are they inspired from the shots?

Yes, the names have been well received which pleases me as a writer (well, copywriter).  Once the images had been selected and vetted I sat down with them and just wrote lines for each image based upon initial reactions – like a good headline for an ad actually.  “Yes Darling I am Listening” was about a gorgeous, rich environment, getting drawn into it and then this exterior noise.  “Ethanol High” was a bit more literal touching upon the blurred lines (like the image itself) of corn production for alternative fuels.  And “Milk” was simply describing the scene, which was a dairy farm on a county road in Georgia.

The hidden room. “Too Pay”, “Spillway”

7. There is a small hidden room with a chair and a light bulb at your exhibition.  What is the story behind it?

When I first visited the building at 371 Madison Street I was walking around the large exhibition space and opened up a randomly situated door to find a very weird, creepy room with a drain in the floor and some missing, high ceiling tiles.  I immediately knew something needed to go in there and after some coercing with the event partners, they agreed.  We lit it with a very cool old school light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and I hung an image of Satan in Flames (“Too Pay”) which was later complemented on a side wall by a picture of a bathtub drain (“Spillway”).  The chair was sheer luck from a propping standpoint, as it was sitting in there just before the show when they were lighting, so I said let’s keep it in there and see what people say.  I guess it worked.

8. Do you have any other favorite images from the exhibition?

Someone asked me that at the show, actually someone well respected in the decorative art world, and while my first response was “all of them.”  That got an eye roll so I went with the “Milk” image. I think because it’s recent and I am still pleased with how it worked out.  The other might be “Sway,” which is an abstract image of pine trees off a dirt road with new fern growth as background after a spring burn down south.

9. You love music.  If I were walking through the exhibition with my iPod, what should I be listening to?

That’s a good one, as some of the titles are indeed inspired by songs.  I can think a few deep cuts off of the Stones “Exile on Main Street,” as well as some Uncle Tupelo and Avett Brothers but that’s just me.

10. What is your Five Elements of your creativity?

Are you sure you are a designer and not writer?  Well it would be easy to say just those five elements but I’ll go with sight, sound, motion, light and words.


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