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Robert Hamblin, 2014
|Born||6 April 1969
Johannesburg, South Africa
|Known for||Fine art photographer|
Robert Hamblin (born 6 April 1969) is a South African photographer. He works and lives in Cape Town. Hamblin started as a freelance commercial photographer, specialising in television and the performing arts. The arts influenced him strongly and he became a fine art photographer. The early themes of his work were primarily sourced from the arts. Hamblin's later work is preoccupied with gender and identity and is the focus of much of his current work.
The Occupy movement and Big Money - The Colony (Phase I Under Construct) (2013) and The Colony (Phase II – Occupy) (2014). In these exhibitions the ebb and flow of gold and other stocks are reflected. "In a tenacious daily ritual of pondering capitalism's power structures over a period of 260 days, the number of working days in the Western monetary system, he found not only the brilliance of precious metals, minerals and stones reflected in the tides, but also a fluid vehicle to voice his interest in the Occupy Wall Street movement," reads a University of Johannesburg review. The rich-businessman/poor-labourer Occupy perspective is foregrounded by Renée Bonorchis, Financial Journalist, Bloomberg News, Johannesburg, "The men in suits, waist deep in gold in Hamblin's photographs. At the same time, South African miners who risk their lives underground have been asking for a higher wage."
Masculinity - Millennium Man (1998), The Post Christian (2000), The Binary Farm (2006), and Gender (2004). "Hamblin has, what he terms, a "compassionate" understanding of male violence; how a man's potential for violence causes self-loathing, and how it often underpins a man's very existence," as described by Ang Lloyd. The catalogue for the "Threshold" series at Erdmann Gallery says Hamblin explores the idea of a masculine ideal, the contrast between flight and fall where masculinity is in flux, weighed down by the gravity of the past.
...When You Feeling Like a Lady (2013). The sexworker-performers are anatomically male, but work as women (Afrikaans article). "Movement and performance is a big part of the existence of these sexworkers," says Hamblin.  The performers asked Hamblin to express their "awareness of their masculine bodies AND their feminine identity".
In Hamblin’s exhibitions in 2014, Imago and The Colony, he interviews models who play a significant role in the resulting works. In the case of The Colony, the focus is directly on the experiences of men and the influence of masculine identity, power and social construct on their lives. Robert presents his work not in the documentary style but rather allows its multiple influences to shape it with a more conceptual and visceral impact in mind. Chris Diedericks says of Hamblin's work, "Robert Hamblin's cutting edge digital work, both commercial and conceptual, makes him a leader in his field."
Late in 2012, he decided to finally commit himself to his fine art photography, kicking off his full-time career with an exhibition called "… when you feeling like a lady" at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK). The exhibition was the culmination of collaboration between the artist and the transgender sex-worker support group, SWEAT, in Observatory, Cape Town. The Kanna Award nominated exhibition consisted of photographs and videos arising from interviews and interaction with the group's members.
Nel Erasmus, an abstract painter from School of Paris period (1950-1960s). Ang Lloyd, arts journalist, mentions artistic influencers of Hamblin's work, "According to Hamblin, Erasmus' art centres on 'distillation' by capturing the essence and energy of a subject, as opposed to its realism and solidity."
Hamblin spent his childhood in Alberton, South Africa and was a keen photographer from an early age. He says that he bought his first camera and darkroom equipment with what he earned photographing athletic schoolboys and selling the photographs to schoolgirls. He speaks often of having grown up with an awareness of alienation and otherness through witnessing his father’s attempt to deal with the stigma of being homosexual in pre-1994, apartheid-free, South Africa. Hamblin spent his commercial career as an independent photographer (from the age of 21 onwards) immersed in the film, television and theatre industry, giving him access to a wide range of creative input.
Hamblin transitioned from female to male at the age of 40 and is a vocal defender, activist and advocate of the rights of transgender persons, using his own life and career to lend visibility to the struggle. "Most of us understand what being lesbian, gay or bisexual is all about, but being transgendered is an issue that still has to come out of the closet," he said.
Hamblin's first exhibition in 1993 was a study of well-known South African women in which he made use of his relationships with women working in the dramatic arts. In 1995 he took a year off to take care of his father, who was dying of AIDS. This experience had a strong influence on his later work. His next exhibition, Millennium Man (1996), was an examination of the confrontation between men and perceived notions of masculinity in a world that has become more feminised. Gender, identities and the constructs of power are a strong thematic focus in Hamblin's work and Millennium Man was his first exploration of this theme.
The 90s saw Hamblin achieve success in the form of public recognition for his photography, he was reviewed in various print and digital publications and made various television appearances.
Hamblin has participated in both solo and group shows, in South Africa and abroad. Highlights of his career include winning the 2004 Fellowship Award at the Houston Centre for Photography in Houston, Texas, and being chosen as a featured artist at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn in 2006.
The KKNK show, entitled Gender, was a multimedia exhibition exploring sexual categorisation and notions of femininity and masculinity. In addition to a series of surrealistic photographs, five short films Hair, Body, Brother, Father, and Grandfather – all of which interrogate the spaces between the masculine and the feminine – were shown. Jacki McInnes said, "Perhaps it is his strategy of ambiguity in the obvious that makes Hamblin's art at once accessible and yet hauntingly complex."
Hamblin moved to the Western Cape in 2010 and spent a number of years contributing to advocating for transgender rights, sitting on the founding board of a non-profit dedicated to this ideal. In 2011, as part of his activist work, he assisted in founding a support group for transgendered sex-workers at a Cape Town non-profit organisation called SWEAT. During this phase, he also developed a keener interest in gender theory, within the context of human rights. He also transitioned himself, a process that had significant impact on his own photographic work. His interest in masculinity and the dynamics of power had already influenced his previous exhibitions, Millennium Man, The Post Christian, The Binary Farm, pre-transition films, that also dealt with masculinity, sexuality, and the how to deal with patriarchy.
Selected solo exhibitions
- 2015 "Daughter Language", Lizamore and Associates Johannesburg South Africa
- 2014 "The Colony - (Occupy)", University of Johannesburg Gallery Johannesburg South Africa
- 2013 The Colony (Under Construct), Aardklop National Arts Festival, Potchefstroom, South Africa
- 2013 “... when you feeling like a lady”, SWEAT, Cape Town & Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK), Oudtshoorn, South Africa.
- 2006 Binary Farm, KKNK, Oudtshoorn, South Africa
- 2004 Gender, United States
- 2000 The Post Christian (Solo), Open Window Art Academy & Aardklop, South Africa
- 1998 Op die Man af (Solo), KKNK, South Africa
- 1998 Millennium Man, Aardklop & Graphiti, Johannesburg, South Africa
- Catalogue of The Colony (Phase II – Occupy), (October 2014, page 22)
- Mail & Guardian 24 July 2006