Creating images that go beyond reality
● By J. Chambless
Photographer Bob Lott on the river near the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford.
By John Chambless
Robert Lott has spent most of his life not even considering a career in photography. But he's making up for that now.
After an engineering career with DuPont that began in the 1960s and moved him from his home state of Louisiana to Delaware, Lott picked up a camera about a decade ago so he could take photos of his daughter's volleyball games. Up to that point, his interest in photography had been zero. “I had no art in my family whatsoever,” he said.
“She eventually moved on from volleyball, and I moved my photography career to what I'm shooting today – nature, landscapes and urban decay. It's been eight, maybe nine years since I picked up a camera,” Lott said during an interview on an October afternoon at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, which is about a mile from his Chadds Ford home.
“I worked at it hard, of course. And I've developed a style that's pretty much all my own. People see it and say, 'That's Bob's work,'” he said.
Once he started taking photographs and learning the ins and outs of digital imagery, Lott was quickly hooked. “My wife was glad I had something to do in retirement,” he said with a smile.
While Lott says he admires the work of photographer Ansel Adams, he was directly influenced by Baltimore nature photographer Tony Sweet. The two have shot images together several times, and Sweet has been consistently encouraging, Lott said.
Lott's home studio looks like a computer engineer's work station, and he's happy to not be working with trays of developer and a photo enlarger. “I've never shot film,” he said. “That's probably a matter of when I got started. We have arguments, kind of like the arguments between using a Mac and a PC. It's about what's allowed in terms of post-processing. But back then in a darkroom, they did a lot of manipulating as well.
“Photography is very much an art. Some painters won't acknowledge that, but it is art,” Lott said. “Anybody can take pictures, but creating art with it is a different story.”
Lott has been helped by selecting some spectacular places to shoot – or perhaps he just has a way of making them look spectacular. When he exhibits his large images at art shows and fairs, “people say, 'It's like I could walk right into them,'” he said.
His images of graffiti on concrete pillars have been consistently popular. “Those are taken at an old coal terminal, in Philadelphia, where they offloaded coal from rail to barge,” he said. “The rail spur is still there, and all the concrete underneath it has graffiti on it. It's always changing. I've been in there over 25 times since 2008.
“I go in there by myself. I don't worry about it. I've never seen one of the artists in all the times I've been in. One year, the Chester County Camera club had graffiti or street art as the theme for the competition. I remembered a friend of ours had a son living in Philly. He showed me around South Street and then he remembered this spot. The moment I saw it, I thought, 'Wow.'”
But Lott is also dedicated to spotlighting the beauty of Chester County, and his image of the sun rising over the Granogue estate is particularly strong. “I've been participating in the Brandywine Valley Plein Air competition since it started about five years ago,” he said. “It gives you access to places that you don't usually have access to, like Granogue. I find that it's forced me to shoot some things that I might not normally shoot. It's improved my photography considerably.”
Lott's photos are hyper-real, an effect he achieves by shooting multiple images of the same scene and then overlapping them.
“I usually shoot on a tripod, varying the shutter speed and changing the exposures from dark to light,” he explained. “I'll take three, five, seven images and process them with special software that pulls out details – shadows and the highlights. It's called HDR, or High Dynamic Range. I was an early adopter of that when it was beginning.”
He can print images up to 24 inches wide on equipment he owns.
“I'm not a purist at all. I do different things with different images, but I let the image dictate how I treat it,” he said. “Some of the things are more painterly, and sometimes that wouldn't work at all. With the HDR, I get more depth, and a richness of color that you can't get with a single image. They are bright, because I always try to draw out the color and texture and depth. I frequently have people tell me, 'Gee, I just feel like I'm standing there.' Which makes me feel quite good.”
Lott said his early images of flowers at Longwood Gardens proved to not be big sellers, and he's burned out on them. “I just shot so much there for a period of time,” he said. “I hardly go there anymore.” His scenes of local places viewed through his distinctive lens have been gaining him a name in the local art world.
“People love my work, but my prices aren't cheap. But they are competitive. What I've found is that if people really relate to a piece, the price is not a factor.”
Lott is experimenting with printing his images on aluminum panels, which has added a bit of labor to his process. He invested in equipment that cuts the panels, rounds the corners and puts his images in place with startling clarity. “I'm doing all the work myself, and that helps me keep costs down,” he said, rather than sending the work out to outside companies. “It's also a technical challenge for me.”
In November, Lott will expand his horizons with a trip to Utah, where he'll shoot the canyons and vistas with a group of fellow photographers. “We even have a tour into a private canyon. It should be a good trip,” he said.
To market his work, Lott has been refining his own website (www.justbobimages.com), where he also handles sales directly. He has aligned himself with a few online promotion companies and art sites, but mainly, he's enjoying expanding his artistic vision.
“Since I started doing photography, I have a whole new appreciation for what's around me,” he said. “Now I'm using the other part of my brain.”
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.