Jack Robinson, Jr. was born in Meridian Mississippi on September 18, 1928 to Jack Robinson, Sr. and Euline Jones. He grew up in Clarksdale Mississippi, the literal heart of the Mississippi Delta. Jack graduated from Clarksdale High School in 1946. He attended Tulane University in New Orleans. In 1950 He began his professional career in photography. His early work captured the charm of the French Quarter and documented the night life there. He photographed the Mardi Gras festivities. He went to Mexico in 1954 where he captured old Mexico in large and medium format photographs. In 1955 Jack moved to New York where he quickly became noted for his fashion photography and was sought out by many of the top designers and others in the fashion industry. By 1959 he had a cover shot for a fashion special for Life magazine. He worked with fashion maven Carrie Donovan at the New York Times until 1965.
Jack traveled to Europe on occasion to photograph the great design houses of the day. When Carrie went over to Vogue Jack followed with his freelance work where he photographed both fashion and celebrities. Jack was published in Vogue over 500 times from 1965 through 1972. In 1967 US Camera did a feature story on Jack’s work for Vogue’s Own Boutique, a monthly feature that utilized celebrities as models in various boutiques around New York. The article reprinted shots Jack had done of Baby Jane Holzer, Tom Wolfe, Sonny and Cher and Julie Christy. The Vogue section was the brainchild of the legendary Diana Vreeland , Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. Jack was her personal favorite and in fact it was Jack whom she chose to do her own portrait.
In 1974, about a year after Jack left New York, Vogue mounted a retrospective of 50 Years of Women in Vogue. Newsweek magazine covered this show with a two-page spread that featured six photographs, one by Avedon, two by Irving Penn, one by De Hoyningen-Huene’, one by Edward Steichen and one by Jack Robinson. It is clear that by the early 1970s Jack had established himself as one of the more important photographers in the world but suffered a malaise that would, during the rest of his life, preclude additional recognition. Jack’s personal life was a challenge. He was a classic tormented eccentric genius from the Mississippi Delta like so many others before him: Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, most musicians, yes, including Elvis. Jack turned to drugs and alcohol to escape. The fact that he was gay at a time when it was not socially acceptable caused suffering in Jack. He also ran in the fast lane of Warhol and company. That he eventually succumbed to the temptations found in the very social scene he was photographing should be no surprise.
As you read his daybooks and job assignments you can see the deterioration of his life. Jobs dwindled: he had to move from his toney studio address on 11 East 10th Street, sell his beloved Steinway and finally in December of 1972 retreat to Memphis. He was broken and addicted to alcohol. He was taken in by Audrey Stroll, a long time friend who got him into AA and got him back on his feet. Jack stopped all commercial work and took up painting. He soon took a job as assistant to noted artist Dorothy Sturm designing stained glass windows for churches at one of the ten largest stained glass studios in the country, Laukauff Stained Glass. After his stint at Laukauff Studio he joined another glass studio where he spent the last year of his life doing water color and pen and pencil designs for the stained glass windows for the chapel at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where Danny Thomas is buried. He fell ill in November 1997 and went to see his doctor. Mr. Robinson died of cancer within a month of that visit.
Though Jack Robinson’s professional photography career spanned only 17 years they were pivotal years in modern history. Jack was there to document in fine art photography the social changes that occurred in the ’60s and early ’70s as reflected by fashion, art, the written word, the stage and silver screen, and probably most important of all, the music. Jack photographed virtually every musician that we think of when we think Woodstock and the Summer of Love. Jack did album covers and fashion shoots. He photographed the Nixon White House, then Dennis Hopper of “Easy Rider”, the unbridled decadence of the ’60s in New York and unequaled elegance of Jacquelyn Kennedy in full formal regalia. Jack captured what is arguably the absolute zenith of modern fashion as given us by Pucci, Cardin, St. Laurent, Blass and the like. But he also showed us the casual look that was to become and sometimes what was not to become (electric clothes by Diana Dew). From the “Beat Generation”, as an insider and a participant, Jack Robinson captured on film what the world will remember for generations, as the ’60s.