Q&A with Robin Roemer
The Autostraddler takes us behind the scenes of their hot 2012 calendar.
Photo: Elisabeth Millay
Photo fanatics, meet Robin Roemer, one of the masterminds and the photographer behind the Autostraddle Calendar. Autostraddle.com is the leading independently owned lesbian website in the world, and their calendar is filled with gorgeous and diverse lesbian and bisexual women. Roemer reveals what it takes to shoot gold stars.
I'm always inspired by people who live their passion. How were you able to turn your passion into a career?
It's not easy, for sure. I'm so grateful that I am doing what I love. I always try to keep that in mind – how grateful I am for all of the opportunities that I've had to do really fun things. I think the first couple years after college, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it to survive, and then after I realized that I could survive, it was more about what am I passionate about? How could I do this to not only survive, but to also make a difference, to be involved with people who inspire me, to do things I'm more passionate about?
Who are the people who inspire you?
Oh my gosh. Well, I've developed a nice group of strong women that I've worked with over the years, some writers, people that work in music, people that work in improv theater in the city. That's been a great thing for me, developing that network of strong women. And that's where Autostraddle comes in the picture because I was around when Riese and Alex started Autostraddle, and that's how I got involved working with them and photographing the site and watching it grow with them.
What drove you to create the Autostraddle calendar?
Riese and I were talking at some point. I think it was after the site had been up for a year. And we were kind of like, it's not really fair that Maxim and GQ and all these magazines have this monopoly on these sexy features on women, and these interesting things about them, their pictures, just fun highlights. So we decided we wanted to do something like that where we could feature a woman each month and talk about them and do a fun photo shoot, but we wanted to do it a little differently. So the first year it was kind of this idea that we would feature one woman a month and we would really listen to them, and we wanted to stay true to their style and who they were. I worked with Sara Medd, who's an amazing stylist, who used to be here in New York and now she's in LA. It was really fun and it was successful, but then this year, thinking about how we want to change and go forward, we really started to think about how we want it to be more of a series, more of an art piece. We wanted to do these images of women and it was going to be less about wardrobe and even less about body and more about body language and what we represent with our naked selves, what sort of vulnerabilities and what about our personality we get across while stripping away these layers of superficial stuff, like wardrobe.
I read on your website that when you were 5 you were starting to take photo shoots with your dolls. Were you that young when you realized that you really liked photography?
Yeah. [laughs] My mom would tell me to go clean my room and instead of cleaning my room I would set up scenes with my stuffed animals and my toys and I would photograph them. [laughs] I've actually been thinking recently about doing a project where I photograph portraits of adults of varying ages and their different toys or dolls or blankets that they had from when they were really small, and how that might be a really interesting visual. But yeah [laughs], I definitely spent a lot of time with disposal cameras.
How did you select the women for the calendar?
This year it was a little bit tougher because there were a lot of people that wanted to be involved in it. It really just became more about what people wrote in and what they had to say. And then also of course we wanted it to be diverse. We wanted to make sure that we weren't shooting all women with long brown hair. We wanted to show how diverse visually our community is and then also how diverse we are in our interests and in what we can contribute.
If you could shoot any person, dead or alive, who would you want to shoot?
Oh wow, that's a hard question [laughs] I'd have to really think about that. But I will say, I don't know if I'll say this is my one person, but I did get to shoot Lady Gaga early on in her career. I'm a big fan of hers so that would be a really awesome shoot. And I love working with musicians. When I photographed her I had such little time and I didn't really have any resources. It was sort of like this random event and they pulled me aside and told me, 'Take pictures of her,’ and I was like, 'Who is this cool person?' It was right before her first TV appearance on Logo. And a bunch of pictures I took of her ended up in her art book, her album and all this cool stuff. So I think about that sometimes just because I'm like, 'Ah, I could have done so much better. Why? Why?'
I think the creative lesbian community is so awesome. I feel like everybody is big into collaboration and helping each other out.
Yeah, I think it's really amazing. Like with the calendar, we're making it more into a book this year. So we've had people approach us about carrying it, like different stores and publishers. So it's been pretty cool because I think it can actually be a lot bigger than I originally even hoped it would be. Our designer Alex Vega is one of the ones who started Autostraddle with Riese and she designed the calendar to be like a book … It can be a calendar or you can hang it on the wall and because it's going to be spiral bound it can also be an art book.
Photo credit: Robin Roemer
That's so exciting. I love reading all of the calendar blog posts. It's just so cool to get this insight into all of these different women that you may not normally see.
Yeah, it's really cool. And Kelli Griggs is our video girl. She did all of those videos and I love them. It's one thing to look at images of somebody and then to read about them, but then to also see them interacting and goofing around, it's really fun to get that side of them too...and I think it's something that people want. That's why the very few TV shows and web series and whatever on lesbians are so popular — is because it's just really nice, and especially if you don't have access. If you don't have a million lesbian friends, you're not in LA, you don't work for Curve, you don't work for Autostraddle, you don't work for Logo, all these places that probably you and I don't think about that much. But I keep thinking that there are so many people in places where they maybe only know one other gay person. So they kind of get to know people [through the calendar] and create that sense of community. It's really fun, and it's nice. It adds dimension to it.