Robert Stivers (American, b.1953) was a born artist. Stivers began his career as a professional dancer until a debilitating back injury forced him into early retirement, and ultimately led him to his work as a photographer starting in 1988. Self-taught in the art of photography, Stivers is a master of printing and takes pride in his dark-room techniques. His images are usually printed on matte paper and are later hand-toned, and often incorporate manipulation. Creating striking and haunting images that lead one’s imagination to faraway places, Stivers’s work is unique in both appearance and content.
The progression of his photography can be seen in his earlier work, Series 5 (1994–1995), which contains images of both people and animals in various dramatic poses, which echo dancers’ poses. In his Listening to Cement (2000) series, Stivers photographed the heads of sculptures in a magnified manner, creating a sense of unease and tragedy. One of his most well-known group of images is Sestina (2003), which was published as a collection of photographs accompanied by the poetry of John Wood. Stivers often includes various objects, both animate and inanimate, in such a way that a sense of isolation and trauma is unavoidable. In all of these series, Stivers employs the use of vignettes, soft-focus, and motion blur, which give the illusion of fragmented memory that lessens with time, but never fully disappears.
Stivers has exhibited his work widely in both the United States and Europe, and is included in the collections of institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum.