Robert Richfield (b. 1947, Covington, KY) was raised in Cincinnati, OH. Taking interest in photography as a teenager, he left the Midwest in 1965 to attend the Rhode Island School of Design. There, he received a BFA in 1969, followed by a MFA in 1972. While matriculated at RISD, the young photographer studied with and was profoundly influenced by Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind.
Richfield established a strong friendship with Siskind, working as his printer and personal assistant in Providence, RI from 1980-84. Accompanying Siskind on photographic trips to Morocco, Brazil, and Mexico, he grasped and internalized the itinerant role of the professional photographer. Richfield has continued to travel extensively throughout his career, frequenting the United Kingdom, Continental Europe, and Mexico.
Stifled by the confines of single-panel imagery, Richfield implemented his distinctive multi-paneled format in the early 1980s, conjoining individual modules, each with its own component of time and continuum, into large-scale color panoramas. In part, Richfield attributes the "constructed" nature of his photographs to his life-long fascination with assemblage, manifested in the models and collages he crafted as a child and the elaborate dioramas and Halloween costumes he concocted with his children.
Dating from 1987 to 1992, Richfield's early color photographs depict the colorful and kitsch signage of the French Riviera. By paneling these works, Richfield isolates areas of the photographs, reorients the viewer, and infuses the simple graphic imagery with intricacy. Opting to incorporate quotidian details, such as shards of wire and slices of sky, he reveals a reality which lies beyond the painted signs.
In 1993, Richfield revised his focus and approach, turning away from signage toward exterior and interior environments. Although he continued to create multi-panel panoramas, he began to rotate his camera, often 360 degrees, to surpass his own visual limits and extend the perspective. In such works, the familiar subject matter and crisp detail suggest an accurate depiction of space. However, Richfield has reconstructed the preexisting environment and forged an illusory, imaginary reality. Often, while taking a picture, he photographs a single point twice, producing a complex visual space wherein time has passed and a layer of history is exposed.
The accentuated lines which compose the panel edges constitute a defining characteristic of Richfield's photographs. Rather than fuse the panels into a seamless image, the photographer leaves these "joints" as visible elements of his composition. Afflicted with acute Osteoarthritis at an early age, Richfield's own body is fragmented, fused, and artificially jointed; his work synonymizes the visual and the external with the physical and the internal.
In 2004, a house fire stranded Richfield without access to his studio or darkroom, goading the photographer to switch from film to digital capture. Fortunately, this circumstantial transition
coincided with a heightened interest in digital art, as well as improvements in digital technology. The portability and inconspicuousness of digital equipment emboldened Richfield to photograph in conditions and spaces he previously had ruled out. Taking pictures with his 4 x 5 view camera, Richfield was a spectacle, but, as a digital photographer, he melds with the crowd. No longer isolated, Richfield is interested in becoming part of his pictures and wishes to capture his livelier experience as a photographer with denser, more kinetic images.
Photographs by Robert Richfield are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Center for Creative Photography, Cincinnati Art Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, High Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His work is also featured in many private, institutional, and corporate collections including Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase, amongst others.
Richfield currently lives and works in West Newton, Massachusetts.