Birmingham-based Rob Culpepper is akin to a chameleon in his versatility as a photographer. He often finds himself working in all types of industries, so he utilizes his flexible nature to adapt to each project as fluidly as possible. In his own words:
I have always been a “swiss army knife” photographer, mainly because I am interested in a lot of different subjects.
Though he has photographed architecture and portraiture in separate capacities, a new opportunity to blend the two came about when Rob was approached by writer Barrett Austin in late 2019 to photograph his first book. Soon after, the two began collaborating on Barrett’s self-published “coffee table book” titled Of Common Origin. The book focuses on the roots of seven residential architects across the American South and is classified as both biography and visual diary.
Of Common Origin was a passion project for Barrett, one of those ideas that he’d been percolating for years. I was immediately captivated by his vision, and we began to shoot it in early 2020.
The shoot occurred amid the Covid-19 pandemic so Rob took his time photographing each space to ensure that distance was maintained between all subjects and crew. He dedicated two days to each house and this enabled him to capture interior and exterior photos with light streaming in from different angles throughout the day.
While Rob traveled to varied residences and offices for this shoot, he wanted to ensure that the architecture and portraits maintained an integrated look to establish consistency from one feature to the next. As the book focuses on architects revealing anecdotes and personal philosophies, he needed to produce authentic portraiture that would serve to parallel the stories themselves.
I wanted each portrait to stand on its own, but it was also important that the set of seven work together as a portfolio.
Rob found that while he and the subjects work in different industries, their shared creativity and eye for design enabled them to converse with ease. He learned through this shoot that architects rarely limit their skills to one field, and their clothing, work, and philosophies of life blend together to showcase their artistry as a unified whole.
Because I was shooting for a self-published book, building trust with the architects was the most important aspect of each portrait session.
Barrett, the author, decided to self-publish the book to ensure the layout would be in line with his vision. He reached out to Micha Weidmann Studio, a London design firm, to help bring his ideas to the page, and together they produced a cohesive look that presents the interviews within the same dimensions of Rob’s portraits. In featuring the dialogue as symmetrical to the images, each story complements its visual counterpart and brings harmony from one page to the next.
Photographers’ connections with their subjects can be some of the most crucial and rewarding aspects of an assignment. Rob’s interest in a variety of industries enabled him to approach each part of the project with both familiarity and ingenuity. His knowledge of interior and exterior design was an essential component in his collaboration with all seven architects. As the shoot came to a close, he was grateful for the chance to understand and enjoy these spaces alongside the innovators who built them.
Getting to know these architects, watching the light change, and talking about aspects of their design — these are the kind of special moments that make photography such a marvelous profession.
Writer, Editor, Publisher: Barrett Austin
Book Design: Micha Weidmann Studio