Robert Wyatt, 1970 – 2017
To honor our friend and long-time contributor to Boat Magazine, photographer Robert Wyatt who sadly passed away on January 14th, we wanted to take a moment and share some of our memories of the trips we took together, and the people and places he captured along the way.
Boat Magazine has always been more than a publication. It is put together by a family of contributors who are experts in their fields – writers and researchers and editors, photographers and filmmakers. It’s not a group of individual stories; it’s a collective response to a city.
That group dynamic of traveling to different cities together – spending time uncovering, discovering, understanding, listening – is how each issue comes to be. The fingerprints of every contributor are throughout each page of each issue, and Robert’s influence on how we approach a city to tell its story was strong. His way of looking at the world was distinct. His photos ooze with warmth and humanity and have an extra layer of empathy. You can see it throughout his pictures, and I know it to be true because I worked with him and I saw the exhausting effort he took to understand his subjects, and to find and bring out some special part of them.
“Robert was a wonderfully friendly and keenly interested person and there was a palatable sense that he really cared not just about his work, but people too – and this shines through in his photographs. He will be missed.”
– Tom Eagar, writer and photographer
The first shoot Robert did for Boat Magazine was for Issue 3: London. He was photographing Great Britain’s 400-meter hopeful for the London 2012 Olympic Games – Conrad Williams. The shoot started at Conrad’s training gym and went all day. We left the set around dinnertime, but Robert was still there. Later that night, around 10:30pm I got a call from him. He was just leaving the youth club where Conrad worked with teenagers in the evenings.
“Robert’s shots of Conrad for our London issue were excellent. I distinctly remember breathing a sigh of relief when I saw them, having the designers’ favorite problem as a result – which shots to include! A very talented photographer, and a sad loss.”
– Luke Tonge, graphic designer
The photos Robert delivered from that day were mostly of Conrad’s incredible athleticism and dedication to his sport of running. But the folder also included some photos from that evening – a photo of the kid Robert played ping-pong with, a group of teenagers goofing off at the back, Conrad playing basketball with the kids. For a photographer as esteemed as Robert, I did not expect his time shooting Conrad to carry over late into the evening at a youth club in South London, but it set the tone for working with Robert. He was tireless when it came to his work, and insatiably curious.
When I was unable to join the team for the trip to Tel Aviv for our 10th issue, Robert sent updates after each day of shooting. He was working on his story “Together” for the issue, which was a series of portraits of different sorts of couples in the city – relationships that crossed over traditional borders. We wanted to feature an Arab couple in the story and the one we found – Aws and Suha – lived out in an Arab suburb of Tel Aviv, about a 45 minute drive from where Robert and his assistant Kate were staying:
“We had a bit of an adventure with shooting out at Taybeh!” Robert wrote me. “We were warned by several people not to go there and had problems getting a taxi driver to take us. The words that are used a lot here in Tel Aviv, that are not used as much in western cities are “safe” and “unsafe.” I’ve never heard them spoken so many times. Where as we would use “interesting” or “beautiful” as our first adjective to describe a place, here it’s often “safe” and “unsafe!” When you’re told that a place is “safe for you” it doesn’t make you feel very safe! Aws and Suha didn’t give us a specific address so spoke to our taxi driver telling him to drop us at the 3rd gate to the city and NOT to come in. The taxi driver seemed rather nervous. When we got there we were starting to worry. The taxi driver was very nervous and starting getting cross with us and didn’t want to hang around. We got out of the taxi and then got in a beaten up VW with a man wearing dark shades who proceeded to get lost in lots of lanes within Taybeh. When he asked me to go first into his house I insisted that he go first! Hilarious, although didn’t feel it at the time.
“We then had what was one of the best evenings I’ve had in my life. They had prepared a huge meal in honor of us coming and of course they had been fasting all day as it is Ramadan here. We sat on their roof terrace and waited for the mosque to announce the end of the fast and then we ate. They are the most fascinating couple. She is the only Arab teacher in her school and he is one of a handful of Arabs where he works. Their take on Israel was very mature, intelligent and insightful. They are by far the most interesting people we’ve met on our trip and were quite possibly the most generous people I’ve ever met.”
Aws & Suha at their home in Taybeh, outside of Tel Aviv
I could go on and on telling stories about Robert and the incredible people we were able to meet together while working on Boat Magazine: from transgender models and an orchid master in Bangkok to modern dancers and competitive cyclists in Tel Aviv, to sheep farmers and LGBT couples in the Faroe Islands.
“I spent a week exploring the Faroes with Robert and Kate. Robert was always making us laugh and telling stories. He talked often and fondly of his home, Lucy, Larry and Millar. I learned about the baby ducks that had just hatched, the superb horse riding skills and beauty of his daughter, the excitement he had in purchasing a little piece of property that he was certain Larry would enjoy. It was evident that he loved his profession and that love was only eclipsed by the adoration he had for his family.”
– Rachel Jonas, photographer + writer
“I remember spending a day with Robert and Kate in Jerusalem, shooting the cyclists up the mountain roads and searching for falafel in the old city. He was a lovely man and clearly loved his job.”
– Zara Miller, writer
Robert leaves behind a body of work that is honest and human, and will inspire for generations to come. I am privileged to have given some of that work a home on the pages of Boat Magazine over the past 5 years; his work raised the standard for me as the editor. The magazine will not be the same without his viewpoint, and I will very much miss having him in our Boat family.
Robert Wyatt, photographer, 1970 – 2017
Words by Erin Spens, Editor
Photos by Robert Wyatt