Robert Gordon is a photographer based in Fayetteville, AR. He recently received his MFA in Photography and Related Media at Rochester Institute of Technology. He discovered his love for photography at Lafayette College, in Easton, PA, where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology in 2010. His work focuses on nostalgia, memory and the everyday.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Delta
In this body of work, Delta, I am using family vacations to my great-grandfather’s cabin in Delta, Ontario as a conceit to examine the transition from adolescence into adulthood as a bisexual male and the onset of bipolar disorder. The vacations acted as an escape from a tense home life with an alcoholic father and serve as checkpoints during my adolescence. Time at the cottage exaggerated gender roles, yet somehow relieved the omnipresent domestic tension. Looking back at the formative years of my life, I wonder how much has been shaped by illness and gender performance.
The photographs visually approximate the physical conditions of the cabin and my memories there as a means of reclaiming the past. Objects are gathered from local thrift stores, scanned from books at the local library, or staged at nearby state parks. The photographs are displayed layered or connected, mimicking the associative nature of memory.
When and where did Delta begin?
This project started to germinate in the fall of 2017 after my wife and I had just moved down to Arkansas. I had trouble finding affordable mental health care and my job didn’t offer any benefits, so I ended up transitioning off my medication for Bipolar Disorder. When you’re on heavy duty anti-psychotics like that, there are parts of you which just cease to exist, or are pushed so far down that you can’t really see them. There are large chunks of graduate school that I just don’t remember because of how heavily medicated I was. It’s been a lot of hypomania, and I have just been making photographs to keep myself busy.
I have been drawing inspiration from Arkansas, the landscape, thrift shops, county fairs, and fishing. When I began to ask why, it lead me back to old memories of the cabin, and growing up, and gender roles and this tipping point of puberty where suddenly gender and sexuality becomes more important, and in my case, mental illness reared its head.
I started making more of these vanitas images, and these images that had a dark edge or a shameful quality to them simply because that’s how I felt growing up. But it was only one side of the story and started to seem a little melodramatic and I had to temper it with a little optimism. This led to Ken on Ken, which I feel Is more of an exaltation, maybe a little sloppy, but an anthem. And then my little Zucchini monster, I had seen this sad little zucchini person at the county fair at the end of a shelf, and I just imagined a little queer kid in 4H making a doll from his vegetables while everyone else was comparing the sizes of their eggplants and I had to make a photograph of it. So there’s a lot of optimism baked into the work too, if only under the surface. Ultimately, I just want everyone to know that they’re perfect and they don’t have to compare their experience or justify their truth to anyone else.
On the lighter side, a curator whose work I admire called these photographs “darkly hilarious and gorgeously queer”, and I am doing all I can to suppress the urge to print that on a t-shirt.
Where do you see this project going?
There’s so much that I want to do with this work. I think the most important part is bringing in the physical form of the cabin, and a few family photographs. I’ve already constructed a facade of the cabin, and some wall fragments in my studio, so I will be doing some constructed images tying in the physical form of the cabin. Additionally, I have some family photos that I am going to repurpose as backdrops for still life photographs. There is also going to be some female impersonation. I’ve been collecting a lot of bits and bobs that I want to work in, like this woodpecker door knocker, bringing in more of the domestic, but also this idea of sexual dimorphism. I also have a bullfrog, a preserved lamprey and a bag of human teeth that I have some designs for. I am shooting for exhibiting the work next fall, and a book is going to be a big priority. My wife and I are also planning a 3-week trip to the cabin this summer for the first time in 15 years. I’m going to photograph, and write, but also just be present.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
Being involved with the local art scene has been a big motivator for me. Seeing and helping other people succeed has been pretty fulfilling. I’m also part of the leadership committee of a local artist-run gallery on the Fayetteville Square. It lets me experiment in low risk way, and do what I can to shake up a pretty stale downtown scene. I recently taught a workshop at Crystal Bridges and it was great to be in the classroom again. Some attendees made some super crazy stuff, I was really excited.
Being married to an artist is also a huge motivator. She’s in the MFA program at the University of Arkansas, so when she’s home it’s 24/7 art talk. My involvement in her work is also really collaborative and performative, so it keeps the creative juices flowing. We recently collaborated on a performance piece that we were able to perform at Crystal Bridges, thanks to local artist Kat Wilson.
What’s next for you?
I am putting my nose to the grindstone. I’ve just rented a studio space near downtown Fayetteville, and I am applying to a lot of grants and residencies. I feel like I am finally getting somewhere with the work, and I really want to kick the project into overdrive.
This spring I am looking forward to having open studio nights on First Thursdays, and as part of Fayetteville SpringFest we’ll be shutting down the street in front of our studios for some live music and art. I have a bunch of side projects I am working on, but I really need to bring this one to a conclusion first.
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
I have to mention Kat Wilson for leading by example about how you should treat other artists and generally being awesome. She’s a powerhouse, and doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. I also recently met a local photographer named Kim Ly that is mixing illustration with photographs to make some interesting collage work about Vietnamese-American identity.
There’s a ton of interesting work out there, but there’s something about seeing work evolve that just makes it that much more interesting. I also have to shout out some former colleagues:
Great constructed images by Kes Efsthatiou, valuable work about body image by Gwendolyn Anne, gorgeous chemotypes by Allison Nichols, Lindsey Palmer’s experimental cyanotype work, Cory Fitzgerald’s otherworldly photographs, and Chen Wang’s luscious video work, as well as Jia Wang, and Brett Starr. Also checkout work by Jade Thiraswas and Dylan Peter Obser (Dylan Peter)!