Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

3 open minutes with Helen Thomas Robson

PD Editor Fredric Ridenour Published on 07 December 2012


Progressive Dairyman Editor Fredric Ridenour recently spoke with photographer Helen Thomas Robson about her artwork and the creation of this issue’s cover photo.




What is your artistic background? What made you get into photography?

"For tonight you are mine"

ROBSON : My background is painting, illustration and sculpting. I’ve been doing that ever since I was young. I had some amazing art teachers in high school. I went to college to do design/illustration and illustrated a children’s book.

I enjoyed it, but I found that it wasn’t really my passion. My sister decided to get married three days after Christmas and I was told, “Surprise! You’re the photographer. We don’t have any money to pay a photographer.”


So I did their wedding pictures. And from there, people just started asking me to do their pictures.

I’ve always told people that it’s just another art medium. If you understand color, if you understand lighting, angles and composition, you can make any picture look amazing. I think composition has a lot to do with my background as an artist.


What was your inspiration for the creation of the cover photo, “Tender Moments?”

: A friend of mine, Kirsten Millsap, is an amazing songwriter. She was doing a Christmas musical project of Luke Chapter 2 for her church. She really wanted to photograph the whole story and have it at the Christmas concert. She wrote out the storyline, then gave me a visual of what she was thinking and we worked on it together.

The 19 images in the Luke 2 collection are the result of that. What’s really interesting about that specific picture is that we were looking for a baby Jesus. A woman who was familiar with my work said that there was a young girl to whom she was being a foster-grandma and the girl was going to be having a baby. She was giving this baby up for adoption.


The woman said, “I’ve already talked to her [the pregnant girl] and to the woman who’s adopting the child. They’ve both agreed that they would love to have their baby portray the baby Jesus if you would like to use him.”

The baby (portraying Jesus) was less than a week old. I’ve never taken pictures of a baby that was so peaceful, calm and reverent. That child was there for two hours and never cried.

It was really a touching thing to see these two moms come together for this really intimate moment.

My in-laws own this place called the Rockin’ R Ranch in Mesa, Arizona. It’s a dinner-show theater place and you have to go through this cave to get to the cowboy town. We did the shoot in that cave and dressed it up to look more like a manger. There were probably 25 people who helped out with that shoot. It was really a reverent set the whole time.

When I was taking that shot, I used a telephoto lens so I was farther away, but I felt like I was getting a sneak peek into this intimate, tender moment. All of us felt like we were intruding on this very personal scene.


What do you like most about working with photography as a medium?

"Watching over my children"

ROBSON : What I love about photography is that I can envision it, create sets – and then when I take that picture, I have a basic foundation to start with. My photos are a canvas for my finished work.

I add layers and textures depending on what look I’m going for. I also love that I can close my computer and the mess is put away. My kids can’t get into it, and it doesn’t dry out. I can take my camera anywhere and get the image I want.


How would you describe your art to others?

ROBSON : I call it fine art photography because I mix my photography with my fine art background. I try to explain it to other people but they never get it until they see it. Then when they see it, they’re not sure if it’s a painting or a photograph.

I love that reaction because it really gets people looking at it, trying to figure it out. It brings them into the picture and they start looking at it more closely and intimately. And in my other pictures of Christ, I wanted to portray him as a real person because he is a real person. I love mixing photography into the art because it gives you that real feel.


Do you have any history with the dairy industry?

"Washington's worst ordeal"

ROBSON : Actually I milked cows as a kid. My grandparents owned a dairy farm in Wendell, Idaho. I would spend two to four weeks at their home during the summer. Sometimes we got up early with Grandpa, but most of the time we did the evening milking with him.


What dairy products does your family enjoy?

: Cheese. I have cheese on everything. I’m pregnant right now, so I crave yogurt. My three kids will drink any kind of milk, including powdered milk. We go through about 15 gallons of powdered milk per month. PD

TOP: “For Tonight You Are Mine"

MIDDLE: “Watching Over My Children"

BOTTOM: “Washington’s Worst Ordeal" Photos courtesy of Helen Thomas Robson.

Robson lives in Tennessee. Click here to check out more of her artwork.