Photographer’s Visual Diary Reveals Vulnerabilities That Transcend Reality

We've featured glimpses of Robby Cavanaugh's portfolio in the past, but now this creative photographer has invited us to take a closer look at his captivating work.

For Robby, photography is a way to cope, using friends, family, and even himself as the model for each of his stunning portraits. His work is a personal journey that reveals vulnerability through his art, with each photograph acting as a page of his visual diary, delving deeper into a timeline of life experiences. Fueled by imaginative worlds found in video games and Japanese animation, his inspiring work transcends what we believe to be reality.

Although post-processing is a part of his work, Robby often spends about a month to plan/build props and sets to bring his vision to life. He likes to capture as much as he can within the frame (in situ), in order to create visuals so clean, they look like a pure yet alternate reality. His work makes you question what is or isn't real and asks only that the audience finds some kind of meaning.

Robby was kind enough to give us a deeper understanding of his work with a Behind The Lens look into his portfolio.

What are some of your interests? 

Besides art, I'm kind of a big nerd. Since I was a kid I've always enjoyed Japanese animation and video games. All of these elaborate worlds in these shows and games have provided me a need to create my own realities within my work.

Where do you call home?

I've recently moved from Los Angeles, California to Portland, Oregon! When I got the chance to move there, I did it in a heartbeat. I've always loved the Oregon lifestyle, and I enjoy a slower pace after living and working in LA for so long. It really is a place where young people go to retire. 

What keeps you inspired?

The experiences I obtain from life is what inspires me. If everyone took their life and looked at it like a timeline, there would be moments that stood out from the rest, right? I like to take moments in my life and manifest them into a photograph. Almost like a visual diary. If I'm struggling with certain anxieties or I just want to escape from a situation, I create a piece that brings me closure.

How much planning goes into a shoot?

A lot of planning goes into a shoot, and most of the time not enough planning. It's easy to come up with an idea, but the hardest part is executing it to where it is believable. Once I have an idea, I try to shoot it within the month. Usually a month's time is enough to test things and get what I need done.

Your photographs have a way of telling a story, what qualities do you believe make an incredible portrait?

What makes a great portrait is making it 100% personal to you. Creating a piece that makes you feel vulnerable will most likely be some of your best work. It can be scary submitting intimate work, but it will resonate with a lot of people.

How do you find your models?

I usually just try to find friends of friends. I look for certain features that I want and I make sure they know of me so I'm not a complete stranger when I contact them. I use my wife and I for a lot of my work, too. Depending on the concept, it makes it easier. 

How would you define your style? 

This is always hard. I guess to sum it up, it would be conceptual diaries of my life. I could never find an exact word to describe my style. I find it easier for other people to describe my style for me, haha. 

What message do you want your photographs to convey?

It is my goal to transcend the reality we all see, to the reality we all feel. Not a direct message, but a broad one. When my audience looks at my photographs I want it to mean something to them, even if it is different than what I intended. I don't expect one message to exist within an image; I can't place that restriction upon myself. That's also what makes it fun.

What challenges have you faced while creating?

Oh, so many challenges. Sometimes it just doesn't work out, regardless of how long I plan. 90% of the challenges I face are within execution. The imagination is limitless, yet reality can hit you hard when you're trying to execute an idea. An object may move a certain way, or wind on location may be a factor that wasn't added in, anything! It's always a guessing game when it comes to the actual shoot day.

What's a must have in your gear bag?

Canon 5D (original) and a 50mm or 85mm lens. Plenty of charged batteries and extra CF cards just in case!

How much post-processing goes into a completed photo?

I try and edit the images to exactly how I see it in my mind. Sometimes it can take a while, and sometimes I don't really know how to get it there so I play with it a lot. I try to get everything in camera, but mild compositing is usually necessary in post. A photo can take anywhere between two hours or five hours depending on its complexity. 

What are your plans for the future?

I have big plans for the future that I haven't revealed yet, but will soon! I do want to make a book sometime this year and start my life helping others around the world to create art. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?

The biggest piece of advice I can give is create work that is personal to you. Don't worry about what is considered popular or mainstream, we've all seen that stuff before. Everyone has a life different from the other, why not share it with the world? Tell us your dreams and stories, because we've never seen it before. 

Thank you so much Robby! If you would like to see more of this incredible photographer's work, check out his website and Facebook Page!

Are you a photographer? Would you like to be interviewed for the Behind The Len series? Leave your links in the comment's below!

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