Published on June 4th, 2011 | by Mark Chesnut
Robert Whitman: Photographer Shares his Love of Latin America
|As with all his subjects, Robert Whitman’s view of Latin America offers a fresh perspective.|
New York City-based photographer Robert Whitman’s love of travel goes back decades. As a self-described “young hippie” traveling the world after college, he found that photography was a way to gain greater access to people and places.
Over the years, Robert’s talent behind the lens has resulted in an impressive portfolio that includes editorial work in publications like Travel + Leisure, Women’s Health and Departures, and top-notch ad campaigns for a stellar list of clients including Virgin America and Canadian Club.
But even with his globetrotting and ever-expanding client list, Latin America holds a special place in his professional and personal life — as evidenced by his excellent photographs from multiple trips to Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay. In this exclusive interview, Robert shares his thoughts about what makes these destinations special.
You have an impressive array of work from many destinations around the world. When and where was your first encounter with Latin America, and how did that region grow to become one of your most-photographed regions?
When I was in high school my eccentric cousins moved to San Miguel De Allende. I spent a lot of time with them and fell in love with Mexico—it’s people, the language, the life. After they moved I continued my visits to Mexico, discovering the country. Then between high school and college I spent a year and a half traveling the world. I was drawn to Latin America. I’m a total beach bum, and you can’t beat the Latin beaches and culture. I wanted to live on Ipanema Beach in Rio. I’d always had interest in Cuba, and back in the middle 1990s, I went and have had a love affair with the country ever since.
You’ve created amazing images of Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay. From a visual and artist’s perspective, what are the elements in each of these countries that attract you the most?
For me, my photographs are all about people and it comes back to the Latin culture and their spirit, their heart and their soul.
How would you describe the experience of photographing people in these three countries? Would you say that different countries have different views on what photography means, and how they act when they have a camera focused on them?
The digital revolution has changed everything. Everyone is a photographer, and any person whose picture you take is concerned that it will be all over the web, which in most cases is true. For the most part I’m shooting projects, so people are willing to be my subjects. I think that countries do have different perspectives. For example, in Punte Del Este people have style and are interested in fashion. They like to pose. In Brazil, it’s more about the body, athleticism and beach life. In Cuba, it’s about music, the life, and families.
Are there specific personal experiences that you cherish the most?
It’s the connection with people when I return to Havana, Rio and Punte Del Este. I have no family, and when I return to these three places specifically, it’s like going home for me.
Do you have any tips or recommendations on how to most enjoy the places you’ve been in Brazil, Cuba and Uruguay?
I travel, not as a tourist, but as a local. Go to the markets, the neighborhood restaurants. Avoid tour buses with 300 tourists. My meals are alongside friends and family. I do not want to recommend anything specifically, because they are my secret gems and I don’t want the world to know.
What projects are you working on that we should watch for?
Check out my story in the June edition of Travel + Leisure magazine, “LA: The Night Shift.” I plan on going back to Cuba this summer to photograph young athletes at a competition. My website is www.robertwhitman.com, and it’s always evolving.