Raymond Grubb is a Charlotte icon in the art world, recognized for the photography prowess he has curated over the last 25 years. His art displays in SOCO Gallery these days – he is a working fine art and commercial photographer – but his path to getting there was nothing short of unexpected.
Grubb, born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in the foothills of Morganton, North Carolina, went to Davidson College to receive a biochemistry degree. He then worked in the medical field for several years before becoming… a baker. Only later did he refocus again, and this time his creative energies went toward the art of photography.
Grubb’s talent was immediately apparent, so much so that it drew critical attention. Part of what makes Grubb exceptional – and his work so artistically striking – is that he often works using the century-old platinum process during printing. It imbues his images with a unique warmth and softness as they emerge in monochrome. The method is typically used to create a matte image less susceptible to deterioration, and the platinum tones can range from warm black to reddish brown to expanded mid-tone grays: What you’ll see is a gradual shift from black to white. There’s a softness to these types of images, and a quality that makes you feel as if you’re peering into history, or even a memory. Indeed, that’s what Grubb’s work is about: “capturing and recording those things you want to keep.”
When did you become interested in art and photography?
I always played piano, sketched, and painted as a kid, but I majored in biology and chemistry and then also took some studio art classes with Herb Jackson. Then, I spent my junior year in France which is when I first saw friends using something besides an Instamatic camera. I then knew I was going to buy a 35mm camera, but it took a couple of years for that to happen. I took a lot of classes at CPCC, mostly self-directed darkroom classes. For years I used a Canon FTb and dozens of plastic Diana cameras.
How frequently do you work?
I always have projects I’m working on. Plus, daily life is a daily project. There’s a lot of bread coming out of the oven and a lot of light coming through the windows. I concentrate on portraits and landscape… And Tom [Thoune, Grubb’s partner and another well-known Charlotte artist] is well-documented. I also approach strangers regularly. I spend time in the woods nearby, I work around my old hometown, and I work in the mountains.
What do you shoot with today?
Now I use a Nikon D700, a digital camera, and a 6×9 Voigtlander Avus film camera. Post-production is done on my desktop or laptop and an Epson printer. Printing is done on my back porch. Platinum palladium, my usual process for printing, doesn’t require total darkness, so I’m out of the darkroom. I work by myself, but my partner works at home too, so he often works with me. I work at home and on location most every day.
I’m interested in the baking you did before fully turning to photography.
I began teaching myself to cook and bake in the late 70’s. Then a college friend’s sister moved to town to open a takeout food shop, and she hired me to bake. Totally inexperienced, both of us. Robin Mack, who was also a talented photographer and now designs womenswear in Greensboro, opened Palatable Pleasures in 1981. I worked there for 7 or 8 years. I am a dedicated bread and pastry maker, and Robin is still a close friend. Five years ago, Tom and I, with our surrounding neighbors, built a wood-burning oven in our backyard. Château D’ough is where we all gather with lots of friends to cook together regularly.
Creating an artist’s life isn’t simple. What has been the biggest challenge to pursuing your passion?
I’ve spent too much time doing repetitive work, wasting time, with some nasty people. But it’s really a waste to dwell on that since that’s such a small part of my life. One of the greatest challenges for me has been to overcome timidity, but I now feel confident in how I approach my work.
What helps you know you’ve created an image that’s “art”?
It certainly helps when there’s a positive response from others. Sometimes it’s intuition. The world happens in front of you and sometimes you’re able to catch it. I’m not sure photography teaches how to see, but it teaches how some people see.
What are you working on currently?
There are several projects I’ve been working on for a while. I’m shooting immigrant friends, acquaintances, and strangers in my home and neighborhood, working on how we fit in together, share space. Mountain beaches have been a focus for the last few years, starting with some locations I used to play in growing up. There’s a project I’m formulating to be shot in France. I’ve begun working in color over the past year; I just received grant money to invest in a new printer to continue that work. Platinum palladium portrait commissions are keeping me busy now.
Find Grubb’s work on display at SOCO Gallery, and visit his website: raymondgrubb.com