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Meetings & Speakers - David Robertson 06/30/2009
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David Robertson, a UCD English Professor, has been interested in combining words and photographs for the last 15 years. He talked about the common ways that words and photographs are combined in books, in individual works, and in gallery exhibits. Then he talked about the kinds of combinations that he personally likes and how he does it showing several examples.


When you combine words and photographs, you start changing the meaning of the words and the photographs. When you see Ansel Adams name, you will start seeing the photograph in a different way, suddenly the meaning and the context changes.


In a Portfolio, where the emphasis is on the photographs,  you may add a name, a title, a date, and a place. In a magazine article, where the emphasis is on the text, the photographs are meant to illustrate the words. David tries to combine words and photographs in an oblique, imaginative ways, where photos and words are equal standing and holding on their own, where they bounce of each others meanings without being able to see how it is happening.


The most difficult thing about writing is starting. David carries a journal that fits in his pocket (or buys pants that has pockets large enough for his journals), he writes notes as they come to his mind, and puts them together later.

He always has to have at least a half baked idea. Like writing a graphic novel, you need people and buildings to put up bubbles. The results will not be as good if he starts on a photo expedition and has no idea what he is going to do.  


David then discussed the subject of entitling photographs:

  • You can find words that might enlarge the photograph.


For example, entitling this image “The Road Not Taken”, which is one of the most famous poems written in American English Literature, will add a very large cultural context.

  • Some photographers may not want any words, they may not even want their names mentioned.
  • You can play it completely safe, like Ansel Adams. He just put the name of the place, that would be the most elemental level. He was clearly up to something a lot bigger than that, he did not want to give it away with a title.
  • Start trying out other things, keep them inside your mind, inside your home and look at them later. If you find something that you are not after, then change it. David has not printed any text without letting it sit aside and rest for 1-3 months. He finds it very amazing how sometimes he thinks that he has written the best phrase, but when he comes back to it later, he figures out that it is not Hemingway. 

Being familiar with Ansel Adams work, David finished his presentation comparing Ansel Adams work to two other famous photographers.  In his book, “West of Eden, The History of Art and Literature of Yosemite”, David dedicated one chapter to Ansel Adams. 

  • Adams, was really up to reducing the number of themes in a photograph, generally to 2 or 3, in order to point out very elemental relationships and the mystery between things in the world. (Like a rock, a stream, and a cloud).
  • Minor White was interested in the use of photographs in a spiritual program. They were a part of a larger meaning, they were instruments used in meditation, as a part of a discipline that would get from pretty muddy about what it means to some clarification (Satori or Enlightenment).
  • Edward Weston, believed that the world was made of basic elemental forms. Almost like substances and themes. They were the elemental building blocks of a meaningful universe.
  • If you see a cloud in Ansel Adams photograph, it is a cloud; in Miner White’s photograph, it is a metaphor for an idea; in Edward Weston’s photograph, it is an elemental form.

Best Regards

Samer Alassaad

President, The Photography Club of Davis



(David Robertson:


EMAIL: darobertson@ucdavis.edu



Ph.D. (1972) University of California, Irvine (English)

Ph.D. (1966) Yale University (Biblical Studies)

M.A.  (1964) University of Toronto (Ancient Near Eastern Language and Literature)

B.D.  (1962) Perkins School of Theology

B.A.  (1959) Yale University (Psychology)



Phi Beta Kappa, Yale University, 1959

Distinguished Teaching Award, Southern Methodist University, 1969

Distinguished Teaching Award, University of California, Davis, 1977



Yosemite National Park, 1990.

Yosemite National Park, 1994.



Black Holes.  1980. [self-published]

West of Eden: A History of the Art and Literature of Yosemite. 1984.

Yosemite As We Saw It: A Centennial Collection of Early Writings and Art.  1990.

Photo and Word.  1997.

Real Matter. 1997.

Narrow Way to Nearby. 2000.

On the Road Ecology. 2008 [self-pubished]

Tranches of San Francisco and the Bay. In press, 2009. [self-published]



Clear Lake: The story of Antimatter and Matter, 2000 [Poster]

Nature and Culture, 2001 [Poster]

EcoHuman’s Four Square Deck, 2003 [Deck of cards]

Freakin’ Magic Playing Cards, 2004 [Deck of cards]

London Lite, 2005 [Newspaper]

395: The Information Highway, 2006 [Pamphlet]

Mile Markers, 2007 [Pamphlet]

Calendar 2008

Calendar 2009)