Using symmetry, light and movement, Rob Woodcox creates surreal photographs which seem to defy gravity. His elaborate compositions make use of the human body as building blocks, taking advantage of his subjects strength, balance and flexibility.
A fine art and fashion photographer currently living between Mexico City, Los Angeles and New York, Rob interweaves the threads of reality, memory and dream in his works. Intrigued by movement in dance and its correlation to his experience as a human being, he works closely with the dancers to create different shapes and stories, while pushing past their physical threshold with a bit of creative editing. Turning the body into an instrument of freedom, these works seem to challenge the constraints and rules of society, the patterns and preconceptions.
Throughout his practice, Rob has been dedicated to make strained voice heard, raising awareness and conversation around the diverse range of issues, from the U.S. foster care system and adoption, queer identity and body positivity to racial diversity and environmental justice. He selflessly shares his experience and knowledge with the world, teaching students all around the world.
PRØHBTD chatted with Rob about his surreal aesthetic, the fascination with the human form and movement, and photography as a means to further positive change in society.
Your work creates a magical space, comprised of reality, memories and dreams. How did you arrive at this surreal aesthetic that has become your signature?
I have been creating photographs for 11 years, and I was initially drawn to storytelling through photography. I was greatly inspired by the work of icons like Annie Leibovitz and Tim Walker — they create their own worlds. I remember starting simple and slowly building my visions into larger or more intricate scenes. Once I mastered technical skills, resources have been the only limitation for my imagination.
Each of your works seeks to tell a meaningful story to the viewers. In what way do these images reflect your own experiences?
Many of my photographs are directly inspired from dreams or experiences. The colors, compositions and styling are often symbolism to reflect a specific emotion or narrative I’m trying to convey. I see the world in a beautiful, opportunistic and surreal light, so I think that comes through in the elements of my photographs.
You work with large groups of dancers, using the human body as a piece of a puzzle in order to achieve harmonious compositions. What intrigues you about the human form and, most particularly, about movement in dance?
Humans are complex creatures, capable of incredible feats both beautiful and grotesque. We see enough pain in the world, so I try to celebrate the harmony we’re capable of when we support each other and focus on community instead of competition. I also believe acknowledging emotion and pain is important, so I try to express that in a beautiful way. Dancers have an ability to deliver emotion through the movements and shapes they create. I can dictate an emotion or narrative and get an interesting pose from dancers almost instantly, so it makes the creative process more successful. I feel connected to the way dancers express themselves fully, and I never want to be afraid to express fully as they do.
Throughout your practice, you have been dedicated to making strained voices heard, raising awareness and inspiring debate around issues such as adoption, queer identity, body positivity, racial diversity and environmental justice. What do you think is the responsibility of art today? How can it contribute to today’s social and political battles?
While some people are capable of standing on a stage and debating for the important causes of the world, others are not given that spotlight or not gifted in the same way. We all have different gifts to offer the world. Some of us are proficient in communicating through the arts, and a large demographic responds accordingly. I wish every person cared and contributed their greatest passions to society — what a world that would be. We don’t all have to like the same things or fully understand the way another person chooses to express, but if we all learned to respect and accept the unique expression of others, I believe the world would be a much more harmonious place. I believe all artists should express to their fullest passion and potential and worry less about what other people think. I believe we have a responsibility to our own communities to support each other, however that manifests in unique parts of the world.
Through your work, you aspire to change the way people see the world around them. How do you think photography has changed the way you see the world?
Before photography my world was dull. It was like that movie Pleasantville where everything is black and white, and at the turning point, the world becomes filled with color. I couldn’t distinguish color temperature or apply my imagination quite fully before. I think I really study the world now in a way I never did before. When I visited NYC for the first time, I was looking up at the skyscrapers in awe. When I turned to my friend, expressing my wonder, he responded “Wow, I guess I never looked up.” I would have been my friend before I started photography, not even appreciating the beauty right in front of my eyes.
You are the creative behind the impressive visual identity for the 17th Belgrade Dance Festival, which will take place in spring 2020. How did this collaboration come to be?
I suppose I have a lot of people to thank for getting me noticed in 2019 and 2020, like all the publications that have featured me and all my followers on Instagram especially have pushed me into the spotlight. The creative directors of the Belgrade Dance Festival reached out to me directly after finding my work online, and I was thrilled to collaborate by licensing some of my dance work to be a part of their promotional content.
Your photographs are compositionally complex and technically demanding. Could you tell us something about your working process?
All of my photographs are captured on location to ensure the light looks cohesive between the background and the models. I put a lot of time into scouting for unique landscapes and architecture. My work is an even 50/50 split of natural light or natural mixed with artificial. Many of my compositions are completely real and don’t require any post compositing, however some are a combination of a real structure paired with some compositing. The practical on-location shoot results in a surreal composition that is totally based in reality.
You hold workshops and teach young people all around the world. What is the most gratifying aspect of this? What is the most important piece of advice that you give to your students?
I love teaching: It’s a practical way of giving back to your community and helping others grow. The most gratifying aspect is seeing the wheels turn in my students’ heads and seeing them accomplish their own goals or overcome a challenge that was holding them back. I always tell my students, no matter how hard they’re working to “make it,” to always prioritize their passion projects. That keeps the spirit alive. I also encourage taking on opportunities that seem bigger than them. It can be scary in the beginning to trust in your own abilities, but the only way to improve at something is to experience it firsthand.
When you’re not taking photographs, what kind of adventures draw you the most?
Anything that gets me into nature is a priority! I love hiking and camping, swimming in the ocean, and exploring new places. I find a lot of my peace and inspiration in nature. I also love dancing, museums and trying new food. I don’t really limit the possibilities.
What is next for you? Any future plans and projects you would like to share?
I have quite a few new conceptual series in the works. I’m also very excited for the release of my new art book Bodies Of Light [on March 20] and my tour that will be accompanying it this spring. If any readers are interested in the book, they can order it here.