Jack’s Equipment and Techniques
For studio work, Jack Robinson mostly used two Hasselblad 500C camera bodies, one made in 1958 and the other in 1970. He used three Carl Zeiss lenses: 80 mm/f:2.8 Planar, 120 mm/f:5.6 S-Planar, and 150 mm/f:4.0 Sonnar. The kit has 4-120 6 x 6 cm film backs. He used mostly 120 film, shooting as few as two and as many as twenty twelve-exposure rolls per session. For 35 mm work, usually sessions outside the studio, Jack Robinson used two Leicaflex SL 35 mm cameras, along with a collection of Nikons. With the 35 mm cameras, Jack used primarily three lenses: 35 mm/f:2.8 Elmarit-R, 50 mm/f:2 Summicron-R, and 90 mm/f:2.8 Elmarit-R.
In the article, “Jack Robinson Photographs Vogue’s Own Boutique,” published in US Camera in April 1967, Jack commented that for these sessions, he would take along four Nikon cameras and a Leica, shooting with Tri-X film. He also noted that, even though he mostly shot with natural light on these sessions, he did take along a flash; “nothing fits a small Honeywell flash unit like a Leica.” Jack commented on the difference between the available light boutique sessions and his studio experience: “Unlike the boutique sessions, I exercise total control; beginning with the look and finishing with the overall picture concept.”
During his time in New York, Jack Robinson had several studio locations. Initially, when he was living at 57 E. 87th Street, Jack shared studio space with several other photographers, Alfred Wertheimer among them. In late 1958, Jack moved to 11 E. 10th in Greenwich Village. He would later petition the City of New York to allow him to convert this space into his living accommodation, studio, and darkroom. Jack Robinson would continue to live and work in this space until he left New York in 1972. Often, pieces of Jack’s furniture would find their way into his photography sessions, with his Eames lounge chair, his brass bed, and his Steinway piano all making appearances in one session or another. Elton John, Herbie Hancock, Daniel Barenboim, and Jerry Herman are all photographed at Jack’s Steinway.
Jack was fond of using a negative intensifier to bring up certain negatives. Unfortunately, what photographers did not know at that time was that some of these intensifiers were not only very dangerous to handle, but also would ultimately cause irreversible damage to the negatives. Examples of the damage caused by intensifiers can be seen in portraits of James Taylor, Malcolm McDowell, and James Caan.
Jack was also very fond of darkroom tricks to get a desired look. One of his favorite tricks was to scrape a negative with a sandpaper block to add depth and texture to the image. This technique can best be seen in photographs of Elton John, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and The Who. Before Jack left New York in 1972, he printed a handful of his favorite photographs for a proposed gallery show; many of the images for this show were sandpapered.
It was his love of darkroom experimentation that first brought Jack Robinson together with Dan Oppenheimer as they worked on a darkroom solution to create etched glass. Oppenheimer’s technique would later be used in the execution of Maya Lin’s design for The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and again with designer Maya Lin for the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.