Those who knew Robert Lundberg back in the days when he was a criminal-justice student might have presumed any photos he was taking were in the vein of mug shots rather than comedic mugging shots.
In the years since the Beacon resident altered course, instead earning a degree in graphic and web design, he’s cultivated a third professional life as a photographer and visual artist. His lens has been most often trained on musicians and comedians. His ongoing series, Uncontaminated Sound, focuses on performers, known and unknown, captured just before they go on stage.
In 2017, after moving from Boston to Brooklyn, he landed his first assignment, for Paste magazine, for a backstage shoot of a performer named Baby Yors at the Bleecker Street club Le Poisson Rouge.
That evening, he says, was when he “fell in love with attempting to capture those little moments that occur when we think no one’s around. I try to get the performers as themselves, not having them pose. They have to put up this stage persona, this aura, for the audience. Some get themselves going beforehand, others have rituals or are mellow and down-to-earth.”
While he was starting that series, another of Lundberg’s images — a photo he took of a man named Tiny on a Philadelphia street — was accepted by the Clio Art Fair, a curated exhibition in New York City that which displays the work of artists who are not affiliated with a gallery. Less than a year after his backstage shots of Baby Yors, Lundberg mounted his first solo show at Bowery Electric. A year later he presented his work at a second New York club, Arlene’s Grocery, on the Lower East Side.
His career path has been “an evolution,” he says, “although even when I was younger I was always curious about the world. At age 5, I wanted to be an archaeologist or geologist. My parents took my twin sister and I to places like Mexico, where we’d use disposable cameras while snorkeling, taking pictures of fish. I always was given hand-me-down cameras by relatives, and I’d snap away.”
His curiosities shifted to street photography after he moved to Brooklyn. He credits his partner, Melissa Nastasi, a publicist, with pushing his photography forward. “I was more interested in design, but since meeting Melissa, it’s been a journey focused on camera work,” he says. In 2017, he finished up a website-design project for the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art at Harvard and felt that his hometown, Boston, was getting small. “It’s a wonderful place, but I had this vision of something I had to do,” he says. “Brooklyn was calling for me.”
“I didn’t plan much; I just moved,” he recalls. “I moved into a windowless space and then made another bad decision and moved into a warehouse.”
He and Nastasi found themselves in Beacon every weekend, he says, and relocated in October. Lundberg has been working on transforming Uncontaminated Sound into a YouTube series of filmed conversation (bit.ly/US-conversations). “With the pandemic, we’ve all had to adapt, but we all still have stories to tell,” he says.