The Inspiring Desks of Art World Stars 

The Photo Blog
Aug. 18 2014 12:03 PM

The Inspiring Desks of Art World Stars 

Jessica Van Brakle, artist.

E. Brady Robinson

E. Brady Robinson was waiting to photograph staff members of the nonprofit arts organization CulturalDC for an assignment when she casually took a photo of one staffer’s workspace. She describes that moment as a “happy accident,” one that inspired an extensive journey to capture the spirit of the art world all along the East Coast. Her forthcoming book, Art Desks, published by Daylight, collects 57 images of the workspaces of artists, curators, art dealers, critics, museum directors, and others from New York to Miami. “I wanted to create an archive of people who are making important contributions to art and culture,” she said. “I’m interested in the idea of the desk as portrait and the social experiment of navigating the art world.”           

Robinson usually finds her subjects through referrals. When she arrives at a desk, she tries to get her photos quickly—taking no longer than 20 minutes—so her subjects can get back to their work. “'I’m working under the constraints of time, space, and light. Photographically, it's challenging,” she said. “I just go for it. I'm a very intuitive photographer. I don’t try to overthink it.”

Anthony Dihle, artist.

E. Brady Robinson

Alberto Gaitan, artist.

E. Brady Robinson

Victoria Gaitan, photographer.

E. Brady Robinson

Eric Thor Sandberg, painter.

E. Brady Robinson

Robinson “cast a wide net” when looking for subjects in order to capture a larger picture of the art world. Her subjects, she said, are often her “heroes,” and she chooses them because she values their work. Whether a desk is orderly or chaotic, decorated or largely sterile, she said, it usually contains traces of its owner. Her photographs, she said, can then serve as portraits, even though they’re absent of human figures. “When I’m on site, I'm focusing on lighting, exposure and composition. It’s not until I’m in the editing process that I can see what’s revealed on a deeper level. Some might leave out a passport or their meds or something personal they forgot about. It's like being Nancy Drew on the scene,” she said.


She finds the desks of artists the most interesting. “They’re least likely to clean up before I get there. If I’m photographing a desk in a museum it tends to look a little bureaucratic, compared to an artist desk, which maybe is a little messier, a little more unfiltered. I feel the artists aren't hiding anything,” she said.           

Robinson’s work will be on display as part of FotoDC in November. Her project, meanwhile, is ongoing, and she plans to expand her territory into desks in the Midwest and West Coast. 

Philippa Hughes, founder, the Pink Line Project.

E. Brady Robinson

Chajana Denharder, artist.

E. Brady Robinson

Kristin Guiter, former vice president of communications and marketing, Corcoran Gallery of Arts.

E. Brady Robinson



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.