THE TALKING EYE: Robin Robertis, a Photographer “with a Penchant for the Absurd” – Interview by Bob Weil

Each month, Bob profiles an exceptional mobile photographer currently producing notable work across a variety of subjects and employing a broad range of techniques. Some will be well known within the mobile photography world (exhibiting and selling their work), and others are gifted aficionados of the craft.

Robin Robertis is an artist/photographer on the West Coast of the United States who draws her inspiration entirely from the surreal and obscure, with people and botanical life as her primary subjects. Every landscape has a human figure in it, and people often are intermingled with plants in some fashion. An internationally-recognized artist in the field of mobile imagery, Robin creates artwork that invokes magical moments and places found in the unconscious dreams of those who are willing to, as she puts it, “peek behind the curtain of day-to-day life.”

BW: Please share your personal and professional background.

RR: I was born and raised in a small California Beach town. I’m self-taught as an artist, and I work as a Flight Attendant for a major airline. Up until COVID, I was flying internationally, mostly to China (and working to learn the language), for a period of about 8 years.

She Bends with the Wind

BW: How did you develop an interest in photography? What drew you to the iPhone?

RR: I was never a photographer, but just hung out with them. I wanted to be a painter, but I’m not very good and I have ADD. Once the concept was put on canvas and halfway done, I would move on to the next. I was filling up my studio with half-completed paintings, sometimes working on many at the same time.

I’ve always loved photography, but was scared to get into it. When digital arrived, a point-and-shoot camera worked just fine for me.


I was hanging out with some digital artists at University of California at San Diego, and they actually dropped a computer off at my studio with Photoshop (Version 1). I loved it! I originally used it for mocking up paintings. While attending a painting class, I met my good friend Jack Davis (the Photoshop guru and the author of a number of books on the subject). He encouraged me to continue with Photoshop, but I was traveling most of the time.

Dewitt’s Deliman
This is a pic of my dear friend and mentor, Dewitt Jones (a retired National Geographic photographer), shot on iPhone 11 against a black sheet. His eye was enlarged with the Photoshop Fix [no longer available] and texture was made in Dreamscope [no longer available] and many layers in Blender. Everything I do always goes through Snapseed, either at the start or end of the editing process.

overseas and laptops were heavy and not practical at that time. When the first iPhone came out, he told me I had to get one, so I did! It instantly gave me access to my box of crayons on the road. My first apps were Photogene [photo-editing], Juxaposer [layering] and Snapseed [filters and editing]. Since Photoshop was so expensive, I made do with the apps I had.

Her most elaborate method
This was one in series that was banned on Instagram and other platforms (not because of the visual content, but because of the poem that went with it). The image was processed in Prequel [no longer available] using the canvas filter. If I use a filter, I usually don’t stop there. I often use the Blender app to blend multiple original (unretouched) and processed images.

During that period, I always attended a Photoshop retreat once a year on the Island of Molokai, run by Jack and former National Geographic photographers Rikki Cooke and Dewitt Jones. I loved Photoshop and was never a DSLR shooter, but when the iPhone came out, we all jumped on board, sharing new apps on a private Facebook group. Well-known photography teacher Rad Drew was also a part of that group. It was like the wild west. We would all get the newest apps and share on a daily basis! We were like kids in a candy store.

We all have upgraded phones almost every year since and we still all gather once a year – instead of Photoshop for the Soul, the group is called Creative Photography for the Soul. I would say at least half the attendees shoot with iPhones.

BW: What inspires you?

RR: For me, inspiration is a synonym for the moment itself. In general, the surreal and obscure. As to subject matter, people and portraiture, and botanical life.

Maya 1, 2022
Shot on an iPhone 13 Pro Max in my home studio (aka, patio with great lighting) brought into Prequel and blended with the canvas filter.

BW: Outside of your photography, in what other ways do you express your creativity

RR: My home. I love sculpture of all kinds. I used to dabble in bronze, now it’s a lot of freeform. I’m working with incorporating my love of plants into sculpture such a kokedama (japanese art of wrapping plants). I just started to play with mosaics. I love charcoal and encaustic work, but don’t work actively in those areas anymore.

Her patterned life 1
This series was shot on an iPhone 7 in my studio against a black sheet hanging as backdrop. The patterns were created in the iColorama app using the Texture tab, and choosing the Vintage tab for the final processing. There are about a dozen images in the series.

BW: Are there any specific design periods, photographers or artists who have an influence on your work?

RR: I never went to college and just signed up for art classes of all types here and there. I’m especially fond of Mid Century artists of course, photographers Diane Arbus, Man Ray and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Present-day photographers include Jennifer Thorston, Maggie Taylor and Brooke Shaden.

Her patterned life 2
This series was shot on an iPhone 7 in my studio against a black sheet hanging as backdrop. The patterns were created in the iColorama app using the Texture tab, and choosing the Vintage tab for the final processing. There are about a dozen images in the series.

BW: What are you trying to communicate with your work? 

RR: When I have taken some workshops with Brooke Shaden, her process is to sketch out the image you want to create beforehand. I have tried this, but it doesn’t really work for me. I have ideas, and try to execute them, but my images usually end up taking on a life of their own. With the final product, however I arrive at the idea, I’m attempting to capture images that evoke magical places found only in the subconscious of those who dare to peek behind the curtain of day-to-day life.

Her patterned life 3
This series was shot on an iPhone 7 in my studio against a black sheet hanging as backdrop. The patterns were created in the iColorama app using the Texture tab, and choosing the Vintage tab for the final processing. There are about a dozen images in the series.

BW: How do you know when a work is finished? 

RR: I can honestly say that I’ve sometimes done 30 to 40 versions of an image – sometimes with each version differing only slightly. That’s the beauty of working digitally – it never has to be finished. I have noticed that if I’m in a hurry to share (which I don’t do so much anymore), I usually end up missing things. I shoot, edit, all on my phone – not even using an iPad. All the time I’m revisiting work and photos. 

The Flowers
This particular series was shot on an early iPhone – in my fireplace where at a certain time of day when I have the most wonderful afternoon light. Flowers were shot from straight above using a black sheet as well, or from sitting straight on. Texturing for these images was added using the Formulas app, and of course tweaked in Snapseed. I have done a number of flower series over the years – dozens and dozens of photos.

BW: Talk a little bit about how you come up with ideas for what to shoot, and how do you set up your shots?

RR: I have a lot of funky props I have picked up over the years. I have some idea going in (like my last shoot where I poured gallons of honey over my model, which took some planning), but most the time, I shoot in my patio / lanai area. I will hang a black backdrop, white sheets, canvas, or whatever I have. I pull out stuff from the shed, and usually it’s a collaborative play time with the model. As far as props, I work with whatever I have around. One of my favorite shots was just with what was easy to carry on a trip I was one. I always wear scarfs and usually carry an umbrella.

The swans of Kensington Palace
Shot on iPhone 6 or 7. The cupcakes came from an old app called Amazing Wigs [no longer available]. Had lots of silly and very diverse creative hats, like the cupcake. It was duplicated with the Juxtaposer app, some texture which probably came from one of my 2 staple apps, Distressed FX and Formulas.

BW: Your work seems evenly divided between iPhone photography and traditional photography. How do you decide which to use in capturing a scene?

RR: My work is 99% iPhone, so no “traditional” photography. I do dabble in AI but rarely show any of it. Scenes usually capture me rather than me capturing a scene.

Nikki’s Dream
My niece, while my sister held a pair of antlers behind her head, against a white backdrop . Hand edited out in Touch Retouch app. Texture from Formulas app, several times through Blender and Filterstorm, and then layering the original image back in.

BW: You’ve gone through various periods in your work – portraiture, flowers/still lives, humorous and sometimes dark scenes. Is there a uniting thread to your work?

RR: I love all of the above. I use to photograph more flowers, because of where I lived and walked every day, flowers were everywhere. The light use to be perfect in the afternoon, hitting my fireplace where i would set up the still life scene. I love silliness, the absurd. And yes, there are a lot of dark scenes as well. Most of those I don’t share – I have been banned a couple of times from social media groups / channels for doing so. Most of my favorite work I would now never share.

Maya 2, 2022
Shot on an iPhone 13 Pro Max in my home studio (aka, patio with great lighting) brought into Prequel and blended with the canvas filter.

BW: What iPhone apps do you generally use in your work? Any on the desktop?

RR: I don’t use any desktop applications. My number one go-to is, of course, Snapseed, where I do most of the basic editing, and then, at the end, finish work. Touch Retouch is a must have [to remove image blemishes].  Image Blender [layering] and Distressed FX for texture. And probably my most useful and it went away last year was Filterstorm that i used for masking. I enjoy the happy mistakes I make playing with Hipstamatic. I have been having fun with motion graphics lately using Motion Leap by Lighttricks.

A whole in her head, 2018
The straight portrait of the model laying on my drop cloth I used was a beautiful shot, but it needed something different. Borrowing an idea from one of my teachers, I refined the image with my own take. A piece of broken pottery was masked in using Filterstorm and the image was brought into Snapseed to work on the tonal range.

BW: What kinds of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have? How do you jump start your creative process?

RR: I don’t think I have any particular creative patterns or styles. I switch between multiple, different mediums, all the time, never really mastering any. I just like to play. The only routine I have is walking my dog before sunrise.

I have fallen into a rut a lot lately, not wanting to shoot, feeling like I have nothing left. It was fun in the beginning of the iPhone photography movement, because everything was about playing with new apps, and how far you could take them. I do love taking classes and when I can, and I enjoy going on retreats.

In the woods
Shot on iPhone 5 in my shower (in afternoon light), I do believe this was done with the same app mentioned above, Amazing Wigs, but the main tree was added with SkyLab, and the birds are from Distressed FX app, then the final was brought into Hipstamatic’s Tin Type for the texture and frame.

BW: What comes next for you creatively? Any particular plans?

RR: I will continue to do what I do as far as analog art, But my Mac Book pro is on the outs. I will go buy a new computer today! After 12 years of not playing with Photoshop, I think is is calling me back, and now that its affordable to the average person, I hope I will return to my roots. I’m loving motion graphics, and would love to play with stop animation.

Rachel’s a vegan
My niece grabbed the sides of her ribs, I combined it with a shot of eucalyptus tree bark for the sides of the split and the flowers were shot on a black background in my fireplace, all merged using Filterstorm and finished off in the Photoshop Express app.

BW: Where has been your work been shown? Have you won any iPhone photography or general photography awards?

RR: My most recent awards include a second place Photographer of the Year from the International iPhone Photography Awards in 2016, first place in the mDAC summit 2017 and in 2018, a first place in the IPPA awards in the animal category (with coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Newsweek, Washington Post, CBS World New, The Daily Telegraph and My Modern Met).

Untitled, 2013

BW: What advice would you have for someone aspiring to do your type of conceptual photography?

RR: Follow artists you like of course. Do your versions of their work to work on your technique / execution if you are stuck. Just do it. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s true. Just play, it’s supposed to be fun. I never take it to seriously because it is my play. I don’t have to make my living through my work, or try to please others.





Bob Weil is a former marketing exec and practicing mixed media digital pictorialist living in Omaha, Nebraska. He has won numerous awards for his work and has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, Italy and Portugal. He is a published author and teacher on digital art subjects with 2,400 students in 52 countries. Bob co-authored The Art of iPhone Photography with Nicki Fitz-Gerald for Rocky Nook Photography Books.

Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>

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