In 2011, Robert Walker, who was born in Jacksonville but raised in Atlanta, was inspired by a hip-hop DJ to go beyond simply admiring photography to learning more about the artistic discipline. Though he held photographers such as Gordon Parks, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Richard Avedon in high regards, it was D-Nice, known by most for his role in the legendary 1980s hip hop group Boogie Down Productions (whose members also included KRS-One and La Rock), that made Walker feel as though he himself was capable of taking great pictures. D-Nice hit a patch of hard times in the 90s and early 2000s but eventually reinvigorated his career through his exploration into the world of photography. With every picture he posted, D-Nice would list the equipment he used when capturing the images. This insight served Walker as both inspiration and a source of education regarding the technical aspects of manual photography, camera bodies, and lenses.
D-Nice, albeit from afar, served as an educator to Walker. As a self-taught photographer, Walker turned to YouTube for additional guidance. He used the video sharing website as an open source platform to learn and gain wisdom regarding all things photography. But, Walker didn't start his journey with elaborate equipment. With limited resources available to him, Walker started his journey as a photographer using something that he already carried with him everyday, his iPhone.
Walker would watch videos on YouTube and then implement what he learned surrounding light, composition, and photo editing. He selected his daughter, who was 4 years old at the time, as his initial subject. Even today, Walker's daughter continues to be his most beloved subject.
Walker purchased his first camera in 2013, a Canon Rebel T5. He selected this model because of its relative affordability. Walker's T5 has served him for five years and it is the camera that he still currently relies on.
Walker doesn't classify himself as any particular type of photographer. Though he enjoys all genres of photography, he is most drawn to work that is representative of street photography and photojournalism. In addition to working a day job, Walker stays busy by walking the streets of Downtown Jacksonville and the shorelines of Jacksonville Beach with his camera in hand to capture compelling images while also sharpening his skills. He also freelances as a wedding and event photographer, with most of his clients discovering his work through Instagram. A goal of Walker's is to travel within the country as well as outside the country to shoot unique landscapes and interesting subjects.
10 Questions with Robert Walker
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic and cultural endeavors?
I learned that I am a very patient individual. Before I purchased a camera, I used my iPhone to take pictures. I did a lot of walking in downtown Jacksonville as a street photographer. I could wait for hours in order to capture the perfect scene, waiting for the “decisive moment” to take the shot.
How do you define success in what you do?
For me, my success is defined by the positive responses I receive from people who view my work. I know I have achieved a certain level of success when people tell me my work has inspired them to pursue their passion.
What patterns, routines, or habits do you think advance the likelihood that any given project will be successful and how do you integrate those behaviors into your workflow?
Spending time practicing and studying your craft will always work in your favor. I try to take my camera everywhere I go and I use it under all types of lighting conditions. If I cannot carry my camera in a certain place, then I will use my iPhone. Using my cell phone has helped me tremendously with improving my composition.
We live in what's being referred to as the attention economy. Content now floods traditional media channels as well as digital platforms and social media. What do you feel makes for an engaging photo and what is your process for choosing what gets posted to your social media accounts?
I try to choose photos that are different, not typical. I try to select more candid shots. Capturing a person when they are the most genuine, not posing, always makes for a great photograph.
You credit DJ and photographer D-Nice as someone who inspired you to make the move from admiring the work of other photographers to actually becoming a photographer yourself. What was it about D-Nice and his career that you connected to in a way that was different from other photographers to the point that you could see yourself learning the trait?
D-Nice was always known as a DJ and an occasional rapper in the late 80s/early 90s. He disappeared during the mid 90s through the early 2000s and wasn’t doing much in music anymore. I read his bio on his website in 2010 and he talked about dealing with hard times and depression during this period, which almost led to him being homeless.
At the time, he was living with a relative who reminded him about all the beautiful places he was able to visit while touring when he was on top, and how he now has nothing left or to show from it. D-Nice promised himself if he was ever given a chance to travel like that again then he would be sure to at least have a picture of what he saw.
He was able to take a photography class and, as a favor, he shot a wedding for a music industry friend who encouraged him to pursue photography. Now, D-Nice travels the world doing high profile DJ gigs, including Obama's inauguration party at the White House as well as Dave Chappell’s annual Juke Joint concerts, and he always has a picture or two to share.
He consistently posts his journeys to his Instagram. Using his photography talent, which no one knew he had, he overcame depression and turned his life around. He's now in a position greater than where he started.
This deeply moved me to pursue my own passion for photography. I had nothing to lose.
How would you end the following statement? My objective as a photographer is to...
How would you sequence your journey to becoming the photographer you are today?
The first step, getting a camera. Once I got the camera I learned how to do everything on it in manual mode. I watched countless YouTube videos on camera settings, composition, and editing. Next was practice. Every day, when I got off work, I would take long walks with my daughter and I would take pictures to document those journeys. This helped my understanding of how to use light and shadows. It also improved my understanding of how to properly expose the camera.
What satisfies you creatively as a photographer? Additionally, what's one photo from your body of work that you're most proud of and why?
Sitting behind the computer and spending time editing a photo is very satisfying to me. A great photo can be edited in so many different styles artistically. The right light, shadows, composition... it leaves you with so many ways the photo can be enhanced.
One photo that I proud of is a photo I took of my daughter running down a hill. She has a stick in her hand and its raised to the sky. She has an expression of freedom on her face. The way the green grass contrasts to the blue sky with my daughter in the middle wearing a multi-colored dress made the scene perfect!
What are the greatest challenges you face as an artist living and working in Northeast Florida?
The greatest challenge is scenery. I love the beach but growing up in Atlanta, the fall season is beautiful. Nothing like the colors of fall.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow Jacksonville's arts and cultural sector and creative industries?
I would like to see more events in support of the arts, especially events sponsored by the city. There definitely has to be a variety so that all styles of artistic thought can gather together to show respect for the arts and artists.