Developing a passion: Local photographer travels the world

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published July 3, 2014

 “Church-Courtyard,” by Robert Zeichner.

“Church-Courtyard,” by Robert Zeichner.

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SOUTHFIELD — Robert Zeichner is a photographer, but he doesn’t take photos. He makes them.

Zeichner only uses time-tested, traditional methods to make his photographs; no digital cameras or computers here.

He has been making photos for 50 years, and the one-of-a-kind photographs Zeichner has worked so hard to make will be featured in this year’s Ann Arbor Street Art Fair July 16-19.

The art fair, which has been operating annually since 1959, takes place on the University of Michigan’s central campus and has a goal of increasing the public’s knowledge and appreciation of fine arts and fine crafts, organizers say

Currently living in Southfield, Zeichner was born in New York City, where his passion for photography was fueled by his father’s interest in the craft. His father bought him his first camera, and Zeichner has been making photos ever since.

“The rest is history,” Zeichner said. “I’ve always had a darkroom, whether I’ve lived in an apartment or a house. It’s been a lifelong passion.”

After graduating from the Pratt Institute in New York City with a bachelor’s degree in advertising design and visual communications, Zeichner moved to Pennsylvania, where he worked for a decade in graphic design and later as a cameraman at a PBS station owned by Penn State.

Eventually, Zeichner moved to Michigan to work as a repair technician for a company that rented and sold professional motion picture equipment, where he worked for another decade until he transitioned into the digital world, selling and designing video equipment. 

Throughout his life, Zeichner has kept photography on the side, until about two years ago, when he retired.

Now, it’s easier for Zeichner to participate in fairs, since he can dedicate all his time to photography.

The artist said he is only one of three photographers involved in the fair who doesn’t use digital photography.

“I do all my own lab work, all my own printing. All is done using time-proven, traditional photographic materials, all done to archival standards. When you buy a photograph from me, it’s all done manually,” Zeichner said.

Karen Delhey — senior director of marketing and partnership for The Guild of Artists and Artisans, and spokesperson for the Ann Arbor Street Fair — said artists have to apply to be a part of the fair, and then are juried by a group of their peers. 

Mostly working with landscapes and architectural subjects, Zeichner has traveled to Greece, Death Valley, the Canadian Rockies, the Finger Lakes of New York, the coast of Maine and many other places to follow his passion for making photographs.

“It’s a whole process of pre-visualizing a subject. Setting up a camera to capture a subject is involved,” Zeichner said. “People will be surprised that I take a two-week trip and come back with 50 exposures.  I’ll spend all day looking for subjects.”

While finding subjects and getting set up is hard, so is setting up his booth and arranging his finished photos, Zeichner said.

“It’s quite demanding,” Zeichner said. “But it’s a very gratifying thing when people want to exchange their hard-earned money for your work.”

Delhey said there is something for everyone at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair.

“Where else are you going to see 1,000 different artists in one space?” Delhey said. “It’s a great cultural event, and it’s a great way to interact with the arts. If nothing else, it’s also great people watching.”

“I’ve been very fortunate to do OK at this show, and I’ve done better and better each time. My hope is that this time will be better yet,” Zeichner said.

You can find Zeichner at booth 226, on Main Street, at the fair.

For more information on the Ann Arbor Art Fair, visit artfair.org. For more information on Robert Zeichner and his photography, visit razeichner.com.

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