Photography: Bob Stevens

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When asked his age, Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Robert Stevens, henceforth to be known as Bob, says, "You want to know how old I am or how old I look? I'm over 50 and that's as far as we're gonna go with that." But Bob's having more than a midlife crisis; he's having a professional pigeonholing crisis. He's been in the business a long time (but not that long!) and when he started, he explains, "I originally gravitated toward fashion/beauty, but I always shot a variety of subjects. But about a decade ago someone gave me a car to shoot. I guess I did it well, and other people gave me other cars to shoot - and I sort of took my hands off the wheel of my career, if you will. I was becoming a car photographer, and it didn't feel good. It felt alien. A lot of people define success as being busy and making money, but I realized after a number of years that I wasn't happy doing those things. Art directors will understand this. There's not an art director on a car account who would think for a second he couldn't do another kind of advertising. However, those very same ADs, out of convenience, will 'niche' photographers. And it's subject matter that determines a photographer's identity, so you become one-dimensional and your portfolio becomes one-dimensional. I got stuck in a car rut. The difference between a rut and a grave, it's been said, is the depth of the hole."

What to do? Bob embarked on a gradual makeover, which started with the inclusion of personal work in his portfolio. Nothing new about that, he notes, but it got him going in the right direction. Does a picture of a fence lead to a particular kind of ad? "No, but it leads to a particular kind of relationship," he says. "It may seem odd that a picture of a cactus or a fence could get you a national campaign with IBM, but it happens all the time." In the past year, Bob has gone into high gear, dumping his old custom-commissioned logo, an archer firing a lightning bolt, with a halo of light above him. "I really believe in branding, but I was branding myself in the wrong direction. I finally realized I was Bob. Bob is now a logotype. The archer is a mythological symbol. He's a hunter, but he hunts with light. He's consumed with passion for his art, that's why rays are coming out of his head. It's a no-brainer, but it's not me; Bob is me." Add a website ( and in-house representation (Jenn Kennedy) and the possibilities mount.

Then there's the case: "You know what Feng Shui is?" Bob asks. "Hey, I'm from California. In Feng Shui, red is a color of power. It's a dynamic force." So Bob had 20 aluminum cases custom powder-coated in cherry red, like they do for race cars. "And the cases inside, which contain the images, are handmade by a bookbinder," he explains. "They're like coffee table books. And I chose to make the images bigger. I figure if something's good, it's even better bigger. It's about putting out that energy, that identity."

Speaking of which, what about changing horses in midstream in an industry where everyone's a foal? "Creative people are always looking for the same thing - what's new, what's hot, what's coming next. One could say that, on paper, my longevity isn't an asset. But Helmut Newton is fucking 80 and so is Avedon, OK? Yes, it's a challenge. But you can be green and 4-foot-2 if the work is good."

The whole package has come together in just the last six months; has anything happened? Not exactly, but Bob has a hot list of shops he wants to work with - Crispin, Fallon, Goodby and the like - and while he hasn't gotten those jobs yet, "now there's no problem getting phone calls returned." Moreover, right now Bob is everywhere with a Hyundai campaign, from Bates, that puts people in the foreground and the cars in the background. "It was a big departure for the client," he says. "It's nice that the cars are receding, but the important thing is I wasn't bidding against car photographers. But it's not about not shooting cars. It's about doing great work."

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