Peripheral Vision

Fine-art photographer Robert West focuses on the timeless

Published in 2007 Georgia Super Lawyers — March 2007

Ask Robert A. West if he considers himself more artist than attorney and he invokes the Fifth. “I wouldn’t want to answer that,” he says with a laugh. “In the old days, I wouldn’t tell lawyers that I was an artist, and I certainly wouldn’t tell artists that I was a lawyer. It destroys your credibility on both fronts.”

West, the artist, shoots black-and-white photographs that have a timeless quality. Shapes, forms and the nuances of light intrigue him.

“Photography has everything other art forms have,” says the Atlanta-based international practice leader for Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. “It gives you the ability to go to the limits of your imagination.

“I’m not that interested in ‘I was there’ snapshots,” he continues. “I like visually interesting photos that are about the organization of space and the perception of space. I’m interested in the things we perceive but don’t always think about as we’re perceiving them. It’s what I call ‘peripheral consciousness.’

“Say I’m photographing the facade of a building,” he says. “Rather than frame the whole building, I’m interested in the way some windows act as mirrors while you can see through others.”

Consider his photograph of empty chairs on a desolate European terrace. “They’re somehow an indication of presence rather than absence, having been arranged by visitors and abandoned. I believe Proust said that absence is the greatest presence.”

Or bicycles stacked against a wall at the University of Rennes Law School, a photograph shot in 1968, when West was a high school student living with a French family. The graffiti translates, “Only the truth is revolutionary.”

“The graffiti is strong, but at the same time, it’s almost disappearing,” he says.

Or the way light flickers off the Seine in a timeexposure photo taken from the Pont Mirabeau in Paris one evening after a long day of meetings and a late business dinner.

West is a painter as well (primarily nonfigurative watercolors) and talented enough to have had shows in Paris and Los Angeles. He occasionally shows his photographs but sells them mainly by word of mouth.

As a student, West studied French literature in Paris under a fellowship from the French government. Before going to law school, he taught French at UCLA (he’s also fluent in Spanish and Portuguese) and studied painting and cinematography.

A well-traveled attorney, West specializes in international transactions—much of it technologyrelated— involving clients in Latin America, Europe and Asia. His camera is his constant companion, even when he’s just driving to his midtown office.

“The point is to show seeing as opposed to the thing seen,” West says. “Identifiable objects are less important than the overall image. The notion is conceptually akin to that painting of a pipe by Magritte with the words, ‘This is not a pipe.’”

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