Robert A. Robinson 1927 - 1996

Captured By The Norwegians

“A language without words”


Norway was a very poor country when I arrived here in April of 1962, still one of the poorest in Europe. It has always been a small country with a population at that time of fewer than four million Norwegians, mostly living in the rural areas. Geographically, Norway stretches north far above the artic circle, but is very narrow in parts, only a few kilometers wide.

Robert A. Robinson came to Norway as a student in 1952, ten years before I did, and he came directly from the Art Center School of Design, like I also did. In 1958 he had his first and only book published in Bergen, “Captured by the Norwegians”. That was the same year Robert Frank had his now famous book “The Americans” published in the United States. Frank became a world famous photographer; Bob did not. He did, however, have a major influence on at least two generations of Norwegian photographers and was, during the years he lived in Norway, one of the most famous photographers in the country. He was a gifted, I would say brilliant photographer with an amazing sense of timing and composition. Bob stayed in Norway until 1965 when he moved to London. By the early 1970´s he had abandoned photography entirely and was living in London working in antiques.

In 1991 I contacted Bob again; he was living in his native California taking care of his invalid brother Buddy. I approached him with an idea: if we could gather his negatives and prints together – they were scattered half way around the world – then I could arrange an exhibition, a book and a documentary film about him and his work, his art. I knew that many of his best pictures were probably lost forever, but we decided to give it a try. From California to London and Hastings in England and Oslo in Norway I searched for the lost treasure. With lots of help from Bob’s daughter Lesley, we did manage to “put the package” together and in 1995 we opened a large exhibition of work in a museum in Oslo. I wrote the text and selected the pictures for a book on him and produced and directed a thirty-minute documentary about his work and life for airing on Norwegian television.

Bobs health was not good, he had suffered a number of heart attacks and he was badly overweight. He died in his sleep only a couple of weeks after the exhibition opened, just after new years in 1996. He went to bed and never woke up, but he was smiling when we found him the next morning. Yet I had succeeded in bringing his name and his work back to Norway and to his rightful place in the history of Norwegian photography. I will always be grateful to Bob, he inspired me to reach for new and, for me, hidden aspects of myself. He liked to refer to his photography as his “language without words”. He was, however, a prolific talker, more than once he talked me to sleep!