Photographer E. Brady Robinson’s sleek white desk fits unobtrusively into the bay window of her second-story Northeast home, tucked behind the living room love seat and bathed in natural light.
On it are a flash bracket, an envelope of colored flash gels, an Apple laptop and iPad, a couple of photos, and sheets of mailing labels and signature cards for her just-released book, “Art Desks.” There’s also a small Canon camera and extra battery, a silver Stanley tape measure, a book of poetry by David Ward, senior historian at the National Portrait Gallery, and contact sheets of photographs of the desks of Ward and other art industry figures from New York to Miami.
If a desk offers insight into an artist’s soul — and Robinson has spent the last three years on a photographic journey based on that belief — then this not-cluttered but not exactly neat workspace reveals Robinson to be cheerful, intellectually engaged and ego-less.
Of course, when she opens the desk’s one drawer and a $20 bill and other papers fly out, you can’t help but wonder if her serene exterior masks some inner turmoil.
Robinson, 44, is talking about “Art Desks,” a Daylight book featuring 57 photographs of the desks of collectors, gallery owners, curators and artists and an essay by art critic and curator Andy Grundberg.
The project began in 2011, when Robinson was taking staff portraits at CulturalDC, a local nonprofit. organization She found a private workspace at the adjacent Flashpoint Gallery, and was struck by its mundane representation of what many perceive to be a glamorous industry. After that shoot, Robinson began asking industry professionals if she could photograph their desks.
The resulting collection surprises with its range. The desks offer plenty of laptops, staplers and datebooks, but there are photographs and art pieces as well as clues to upcoming projects, invitations to gallery shows, future purchases. Open date planners and Post-it notes with meetings and to-do lists create a sense of urgency. And there’s a sense of intimacy, too, as if viewers are enjoying a peek into a place where they don’t belong.
“At every shoot I asked for recommendations, and I created an archive of the art world from New York to Miami,” Robinson said, noting that many of the individuals included in the book no longer have the same jobs and some of the galleries have closed.
Mostly absent of their owners, the images nonetheless speak to their work, their tastes, their personal lives. Robinson herself appears in one, her face obscured by the camera — caught in the reflection of a large work on the wall where (e)merge art fair’s Jamie Smith works.
“That was a happy accident,” Robinson said. “I shoot very instinctively, that’s my style.”
Other photographs reflect that spontaneity, too. The best example is the desk of Anna Walker Skillman, who owns the Jackson Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta. On her desk, a yellow Post-it stuck to her laptop bears the message “Brady is here to see you.”
An earlier version of this story had an incorrect workplace for David Ward. This story has been corrected.
Addison/Ripley Fine Art will host a solo exhibition of “Art Desks” Nov. 1 to 15 and a book signing Nov. 1 from 3 to 6 p.m.