Robert McGinley

Robert McGinley is a photographic artist interested in the documentation of natural locations that are threatened by development. He seeks to preserve these habitats for future generations through his work.

With a B.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts, McGinley began his career as a filmmaker. He wrote and directed feature films, including “Jimmy Zip,” which won Best Dramatic Feature Film at the 1999 Hollywood Film Festival, among other awards. However, his interest in land protection and conservation led him to pursue environmental landscape photography.

In 2001, McGinley’s family asked him to manage 400 acres of farmland in Barrington, Illinois, located 35 miles northwest of Chicago. After his parents’ passing, McGinley fought to protect both the land and the watershed it encompassed, rather than sell it to developers. His photographs of the farm played an essential role in lobbying local, state and federal authorities to grant a conservation easement for the land, and were used as exhibits during subsequent proceedings. The creation of the largest permanent land preservation easement in the state of Illinois was due to his diligent efforts, supported by the Barrington Hills Conservation Trust.

McGinley continues to photograph the farm and its wildlife areas in order to raise awareness of the need to preserve natural habitats and resources. His most recent work explores the incarnations of the Illinois farmland, at dawn and dusk. In addition to his environmental photography, he is an active member of the Trust for Public Land, Heal the Bay, Waterkeeper, and the Environmental Defense Fund, all organizations dedicated to safeguarding land and water resources.

Robert McGinley splits his time between Santa Monica, California and Barrington, Illinois, and maintains studios at both locations.

Artist Statement

My interest in conservation photography derives from a deep appreciation for wild, rural open space that has remained with me since childhood. The intent is to memorialize landscapes that contain sensitive habitat and wildlife at its most raw and vulnerable, and consequently subject to subdivision development and destruction. It is my hope that the work will provide both a revelatory visual experience and ultimately assist in the preservation of endangered woodlands, wetlands, farmland and prairies.

Informed by pioneering photographers such as Richard Misrach and processes such as Japanese sumi ink painting, the colors in many of my photographs are desaturated to the point where the black and white tonalities appear artificial, when in fact they are naturally occurring. These images contrast playfully with other photographs that possess brilliant displays of color, created by the morning and evening sky.

The work invites the viewer to embrace the landscape and deep horizons, providing an opportunity to enter the space. My photographs often include a subtle display of context such as a road, a barn or a farm rake. These components are present in the work to illustrate the interaction between human design elements and natural landscapes.

The process involves careful timing, as I seek the perfect confluence of weather, light and landscape elements to generate a contemplative vision. Often this involves shooting during seasonal changes, where weather patterns and visual dynamics are their most volatile and dramatic. Since the photographs depict a state of being that could be destroyed at any time, it is also important that the work serves to raise awareness and inspire action.

My most recent work, “Magic Hour @ Horizon Farms” and “Topography, Light and Magic,” are landscape studies using “Magic Hour” light at dusk and dawn. Photographed at Horizon Farms in Barrington, Illinois, the work was a catalyst for the protection of the farm from development and secured by a permanent conservation easement held by the Barrington Hills Conservation Trust.