Robin Holland, 1957–2018

The longtime Village Voice photographer caught the heart and soul of New York City


When I began writing for the Voice, in the 1990s, I was relegated to the spot on the art page under the main review, by Peter Schjeldahl and then by Jerry Saltz. But often my 300-or-so-word critique would be enlivened by one of Robin Holland’s installation shots, of necessity a small photograph but always nimbly composed. When I heard a few hours ago that Robin had died, at age sixty after a brief illness, I thought of a great photo that had accompanied my review of a David Smith exhibition. I tracked it down in a 2004 issue of the Voice and saw that, sure enough, my memory had served. Through her framing of contrasting light and form in a photo printed at maybe three inches across, Robin had conveyed the wonderful sense of volume and exuberance a viewer felt among those particular sculptures in that specific space.

By that time I had graduated to an occasional full-page feature of my own, and after conducting an interview with Alfred Leslie, I was thrilled when Robin’s color portrait of the balding but still muscular seventy-seven-year-old painter arrived in the art department. In her composition Leslie is seated, but he seems to thrust out of the suite of larger-than-life-size nudes set in a wedge behind him, an accurate evocation of the piss ’n’ vinegar personality that came across in our interview.

A couple of years later, while writing multiple short reviews for the “Best in Show” column, I covered a 2006 survey of Robin’s portraits at Lincoln Center. My review, in full, reads:

“In a color shot, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar yanks at the neck of his sweater, as if even clothes are too confining. Radiant but clearly in an existential funk, Isabelle Huppert clutches her head, cascades of hair flowing through her fingers. These 72 images (several were cover photos for this newspaper) zero in on the off-screen faces of some of the silver screen’s biggest mavericks.” 

Whether she was capturing a Hollywood star, an abstract sculpture, or everyday folk chatting with a subway musician, Robin aimed for the core of her subjects. My wife and I saw her at a gallery dinner on Long Island this past June, and as always she was bluntly direct when we discussed her photos of the beautiful people. “They’re not like the rest of us,” she said of her encounters with the likes of Huppert and George Clooney and Halle Berry. “They’re better looking than us and they work at it — that’s their job. Mine is to capture something deeper about them.”

Whether in color, black and white, large format, or small, Robin got well beyond the facades of this world.   ❖

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