At the age of 13, Robin Haithcoat decided she wanted to be a photographer. Now a junior at Mizzou, Haithcoat has her work on display in Missouri and around the world.
In high school, Haithcoat worked with Creations by Nola Photography, assisting at weddings and eventually becoming a second photographer. She started at MU as a graphic design major before eventually switching to photography.
Haithcoat’s artistic journey began with her taking what she considers “pretty pictures”—photos that are fun for people to look at and generally deemed acceptable by viewers and critics. That changed last year after experimenting with the subjects of her work.
“I felt like (my photos) were all looking the same, and it wasn’t fulfilling,” she says. “So I just started shooting everything that I wanted, and it ended up being really strange. When I put them all together, I realized there were actually some themes hidden throughout that I hadn’t really realized.”
The photos became a series that worked together to raise new questions, solutions and relationships. She submitted a collage of some of these experimental photos into this year’s Undergraduate Visual Arts and Design Showcase (VADS). Some the display’s visual and conceptual connections dealt with topics of nature, sexuality, mental and physical health, and societal constructs. The VADS jury members criticized Haithcoat’s display for attempting to speak about too many themes.
“Those are themes that maybe feel like they should be their own projects, but for me they all exist in the same world together,” she says. “The pictures end up being pretty chaotic, but it’s as if the chaos unites them and makes them relatable because that’s how real life actually feels. It’s not a beautiful portrait series with flowers in their hands; that’s just not what real life feels like to me, so that’s the best way for me to show that.”
Despite the critique from the jury, her work was selected for exhibition award by the Resident Arts gallery in Columbia. Haithcoat will display a larger version of her VADS exhibit in the Resident Arts gallery in Columbia’s North Village Arts District during July and August.
Haithcoat’s mentor Joe Johnson, who is the director of the Art Program and coordinator of the Photography Media Area, has worked with her throughout her undergraduate studies on installations, applications and cultivating her artistic voice through her projects.
“Robin comes to us already in possession of most of the attributes necessary to making exciting art work: a genuine curiosity about the world, an uncommonly productive studio practice, a healthy suspicion of rules and the bravery required to subject personal works to critical analyses,” Johnson says.
The MU Art Department occasionally brings in visiting artists to critique student work. One of these artists, United Kingdom native Oliver Griffin, invited Haithcoat to exhibit her photos at a gallery in which he displays his own work in during Photo London Week, an art festival that brings together international artists and galleries in the streets of London. Haithcoat’s work will be on display starting in the middle of May and continuing through the summer.
After graduation, Haithcoat would like to attend graduate school and eventually be able to do something meaningful with her photographs. She is inspired by French photographer JR, who creates projects that shed light on issues such as violence and discrimination all over the world. For one of his projects—“Women are Heroes”—he plastered giant photos of the faces and eyes of local women on the outside of buildings throughout a community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Catching the attention of the community, many local residents worked together to help JR finish the project before authorities could put a stop to it.
“I definitely want to do something that is important to other people,” Haithcoat says. “I don’t know how I would do it, but I love the idea of not only helping people, but having people help themselves.”