Celebrate ‘Strange Times’ with Prof. Rausch


Casey Kula

Robert Rausch is a Florence native and a professor of photography at UNA. Rausch is renounced for his travel photography, which regularly appears in the New York Times.

Audrey Johnson, Flow Executive Editor

To catch the sunrise, Robert Rausch woke up at 4 a.m. He hiked to the top of Borobudur, a 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple in Indonesia. After the sun climbed to the top of a crystal blue sky, the owner of the company he had been shooting for sent elephants to carry him down the temple and through the mountain roads. He spent an exhausting month shooting photos in the country, but the unforgettable experience made the trip.

“It’s kind of like an adventure you go on every time you’re going on a trip because you go to shoot this beauty,” said the UNA professor of photography. “I don’t think I have a favorite place. I love traveling to new places.”

Rausch started out studying biology and premed, but photography became his entry job to the arts. After five years of shooting, he quit and enrolled in Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., to earn his M.F.A. He spent ten years as a designer before finding his way back to the camera.

“I had a love for photography that I really missed because with photography you travel especially if you’re working for different magazines.” Rausch said. “It’s kind of neat to meet all those people and travel around. Doing design work, you don’t get to do that.”

Rausch’s travel photography regularly appears in the New York Times. Last year, he traveled to Puerto Rico to shoot for an article that encouraged tourists to return after Hurricane Maria.

“I was down there for three days and it stormed the whole time I was down there,” Rausch said. “All this time I was trying to get one sunny picture on the beach.”

Since the pandemic, Rausch’s trips to New York, Los Angles, Palm Springs and Paris were canceled. To capture his feeling of being stuck, he hoped, fully clothed, into an innertube in Cypress Creek for a self-portrait.

He submitted the photograph to Atlanta Photography Group’s upcoming exhibit “Strange Times.” They’ve selected his photo, “Paddling to Paris,” to use on their promotional materials for the show.

“I posted the image just on social media and I got such weird responses from it, like, ‘that’s the weirdest image I’ve ever seen,’” Rausch said. “To me the image is just a normal image of how I kind of feel like right now—floating around, ready to go somewhere, but there’s nowhere to go.”

The Rausch’s moved to Florence, Ala., when Robert turned nine. They lived on a farm near Cloverdale where he was homeschooled. He went away for high school and college, then ended up out West in Los Angles.

After 20 years on the West coast, Rausch and his wife knew it was time to return.

“When I started having kids, I had my first two kids in LA, and I did not want them to grow up in LA,” Rausch said. “I really wanted to move back home… It’s a lovely town.”

In the same year the Rausch’s returned to Florence, fashion designers Billy Reid and Natalie Chanin moved back too.

Rausch’s list of clients includes Billy Reid and Alabama Chanin, two fashion power houses in his own backyard. It also features big names like Anthropologie, Garden & Gun Magazine, Elle Magazine, Hilton Hotels and Elton John.

Rausch shot Elton John 20 years ago, coincidently, right after he moved back to Florence.

“Elton was so nice and cordial and just made sure I got everything I needed,” Rasuch said. “He made me feel comfortable. I think he probably knew that I was a little bit nervous to meet him and to shoot him. He just made me feel right at home.”

With Florence as his base, Rausch continued to work in New York and Los Angles, but he also worked in the Nashville music scene and spent time in Atlanta.

“[Florence is] a lovely town,” Rausch said. “It’s an easy place to get to and from.”

Rausch owns his own design studio, GAS, in Tuscumbia, Ala., next door to friend and fellow artist Audwin McGee.

Originally, a friend suggested naming his studio “Ivy Green Studios” after Helen Keller’s birthplace. Another friend thought of “Green Acres Studios” as a nod to the 60s sitcom about a New York lawyer who moves to a small town.

“My wife heard that and she said, ‘Oh so you’re gonna call it GAS?’ She always called it GAS during the two years that we were up there trying to get the studio done,” Rasch said. “By the time it got done, my wife and everyone she talked to had started calling it GAS. And I hate the name, and it stuck. It’s an acronym for the name I hate even worse which is Green Acres Studios.”

At UNA, he teaches introduction to digital photography and introduction to studio photography.

Now that everyone carries a sophisticated camera in their pocket, their cell phone, Rausch sees the landscape of photography changing for the better. Although professional photographers are paid less today than they were ten years ago, he sees the art of photography coming into its own.

“The industry has kind of been turned upside down,” Rausch said. “You know, when photography first came around everyone thought ‘Painting is going to go away. Why would anyone paint a picture now when they could take a photograph?’ What really happened was painting came into its own. It started becoming abstract. It became this whole other field where no one ever thought painting would go. I feel like photography now is in the same place. It’s in the hands of everybody. Everybody’s in on what photography can do so I feel like now is really the time that photography will become what photography was meant to become.”

Interested in giving photography a try?

“Photography is one of those weird things that you can work in almost any field,” Rausch said. “Photography touches so many lives. Follow your heart and keep your voice.”