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Hamblin spent his childhood in Alberton, South Africa and was a keen photographer from an early age. He says that he bought his first camera and darkroom equipment, by photographing athletic schoolboys and selling the photographs to schoolgirls, as well as working part time in a local darkroom. He also speaks often of having grown up with a deep awareness of alienation and otherness, having witnessed his father’s attempts to deal with the stigma of being gay in apartheid era South Africa. He spent his commercial career as an independent photographer (from the age of 21 onwards) immersed in the film, television and theatre industry, giving him access to a wide range of creative input. He then dedicated himself to art full time and has been working and exhibiting ever since.
Influenced by: Misha Gordon, Jacki McInnes, Nel Erasmus
His career began with commercial photography for a major South African newspaper (Beeld) in 1987. At the early age of 21, Hamblin turned to freelance commercial photography, specialising in television and the performing arts. Both television and performance art influenced him strongly and became the sources of the subjects of his early fine art work. Hamblin’s later work is preoccupied with gender and identities.
His first exhibition in 1993 was a study of well-known South African women in which he made use of his relationships with women working in the dramatic and literary arts. His subjects included Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer internationally acclaimed opera singer, Mimi Coertse, actress and director Janet Suzman and author Doris Lessing. In 1995 he took a year off to take care of his father, who was dying of AIDS. This experience was a strong influence on his later work, significantly The Inner Room, which focused on the vulnerability of masculine bodies. His next exhibition, Millennium Man, was ‘an examination of the confrontation between men and perceived notions of masculinity and a world that has become more feminised’. Gender, identities and constructs of power are a strong thematic focus in Hamblin’s work; Millennium man was his first exploration of this theme. The 1990s saw Hamblin achieve success in the form of public recognition for his photography, he was reviewed in various print and digital publications and made several television appearances.
Hamblin has participated in both solo and group shows, in South Africa and abroad. Highlights of his career include winning the 2004 Fellowship Award at the Houston Center for Photography in Houston, Texas, and being chosen as a featured artist at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) in Oudtshoorn in 2006. This show, entitled Gender, was a multimedia exhibition exploring sexual categorisation and notions of femininity and masculinity. In addition to a series of surrealistic photographs, five short films Hair, Body, Brother, Father, and Grandfather – all of which interrogate the spaces between the masculine and the feminine – were shown. Jacki McInnes said, "Perhaps it is his strategy of ambiguity in the obvious that makes Hamblin’s art at once accessible and yet hauntingly complex".
Hamblin, transgender himself moved to the Western Cape in 2010 and spent a number of years contributing to activism for transgender rights, sitting on the founding board of a non-profit dedicated to this ideal. In 2011, as part of his activist work, he assisted in founding a support group for transgendered sex-workers at a Cape Town non-profit organisation called SWEAT. During this phase, he also developed a keener interest in gender theory, within the context of human rights. His interest in masculinity and the dynamics of power had already influenced his previous exhibitions, Millenium Man, The Post Christian, The Binary Farm, pre-transition films, which also dealt with masculinity, sexuality and the concept of dealing with patriarchy.
“Robert Hamblin's cutting edge digital work, both commercial and conceptual, makes him a leader in his field.” Chris Diedricks  Late in 2012, he decided to finally commit himself to his fine art photography, kicking off his full time career with an exhibition called “… when you feeling like a lady” at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (KKNK). The exhibition was the culmination of collaboration between the artist and the transgender sex-worker support group in Observatory, Cape Town. The Kanna Award nominated exhibition consisted of photographs and videos arising from interviews and interaction with the group’s members.
“In South Africa identities are still being negotiated – not just on a macro level but also in a micro level. It is here on the micro level, the everyday existence where people grapple with being, that Robert Hamblin’s work comes into play. Structures and institutions of oppression may have been officially dismantled, but on an everyday level many individuals are still judged and persecuted by majority bias and opinion often based on outdated or inherited customs and traditions. In an unequal society, gender is a system of power. The toll of forcing gender stereotypes onto people has been documented in the media and chronicles some of the most horrific incidences of physical violence perpetrated against individuals. In this context Robert Hamblin’s work with trans-communities in the Cape Town area becomes a remarkable celebration. There is always cognisance of the violence that is part of the fabric of their daily lives – as statistics and can prove - but in front of Robert’s lens each person can come into being without recompense. The studio becomes more than a stage, but rather a space that allows for an exuberant celebration of being. The lens captures the temporal moments of becoming in a space that is momentarily devoid of bias, hate and violence – a celebration of being able to be oneself.” Richardt Strydom
Hamblin’s new work Imago and the Colony, is also a project in which the presence of the people he captured on film influenced the outcome. His interviews with the models played a significant role in the resulting works, even though the visuals are presented fictionally. In the case of The Colony, the focus is directly on the experiences of men and the influence of masculine identity, power and social constructs on their lives. Hamblin presents his work not in the documentary style but rather allows its multiple influences to shape it with a more conceptual, visceral impact in mind. Johan Myburg called it, "... a gripping exhibition and a new peak in Hamblin's work."
Having lived and worked in four very different worlds – television, theatre, not for profit organisations and the arts, Hamblin has woven broad and disparate insights and experiences into a two decade long exploration of identity, gender and power in his art.
- 2013 Imago and The Colony, Aardklop National Arts Festival, Potchefstroom, South Africa
- 2013 "... when you feeling like a lady", SWEAT, Cape Town & Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK), Oudtshoorn, South Africa.
- 2006 Binary Farm, KKNK, Oudtshoorn, South Africa
- 2003 Reposition, University of Johannesburg Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2002 The Inner Room (Solo), University of Johannesburg Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2002 Tree with Snow, University of Johannesburg Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2000 The Post Christian (Solo), Open Window Art Academy & Aardklop, South Africa
- 1999 Out of the Blue (Solo), KKNK & Aardklop, South Africa
- 1998 Op die Man af (Solo), KKNK, South Africa
- 1998 Millenium Man, Aardklop & Graphiti, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 1993 In a different light, Private Theatre studio, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2013 The Moral Monkeys (group exhibition), Dstreet Gallery, Stellenbosch, South Africa
- 2013 Nomad Bodies, Wintertuin Gallery, University College of Artesis, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp
- 2013 Tom Waits for No Man, KKNK & venues nationwide, South Africa
- 2013 Five Photographers, Dawid's Choice Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2010 Swallow Your Pride, Blank Projects, South Africa
- 2008 Legacy of Men, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2006 Binary Farm (with Neo Ntsoma and Jurgen Schadaberg), University of Johannesburg Gallery
- 2006 Round Table, ArtSpace, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2006 Father (video), Out in Africa Film Festival & Hamburg LGBT Film Festival, nationwide, South Africa and Hamburg, Germany
- 2006 The Best of KKNK, Gordon Froud Contemporary, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2004 Gender, (HCP fellowship award), Houston Centre of Photography, Rice University, USA
- 2003 Inner Room (group), Aluvert, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2002 Time Shift with Nel Erasmus, ArtSpace, Johannesburg, South Africa
- 2013 Kanna Award nomination, Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, South Africa
- 2004 Houston Centre of Photography Fellowship, Rice University, USA
Artist's Website http://www.roberthamblin.com
- Hamblin, Robert. "Millennium Man". Artist's Website. http://roberthamblin.com/archivepage.htm. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- McInnes, Jacki (2007). "Robert Hamblin". Art Times South Africa. http://www.arttimes.co.za. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- "Making the 'T' and 'I' in LGBTI visible". Mail & Guardian. http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-12-13-making-the-t-and-i-in-lgbti-visible. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- Hamblin, Robert. "Transgender sex workers march against hate crime". http://sweat.org.za/index.php/sweat-press-releases/item/273-transgender-sex-workers-march-against-hate-crime. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- Hamblin, Robert. "The Post Christian". Artist's Website. http://roberthamblin.com/thepostchristian.htm. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- Hamblin, Robert. "The Binary Farm". Artist's Website. http://roberthamblin.com/binaryframes.htm. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- Diedericks, Chris. "indigo boy". Artist's Website. http://www.chrisdiedericks.co.za/indigoboy/07april/27/april27text.html. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- Hamblin, Robert. "when you feeling like a lady". Artist's Website. http://roberthamblin.com/middlewyflal.htm. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- "Balbesit Vir Vyf Kannas Genoem". Die Burger. http://www.dieburger.com/Vermaak/Nuus/Balbesit-vir-vyf-Kannas-benoem-20130407. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- Strydom, Richardt. "Place, Displace". Artist's Blog. http://richardtstrydom.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/placedisplace/. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
- Myburg, Johan (22 September 2013). "Landskap in al sy fasette is tema van kuns op fees". Beeld. http://www.beeld.com/vermaak/2013-09-22-landskap-in-al-sy-fasette-is-tema-van-kuns-op-fees. Retrieved 26 September 2013.