“This is going to be interesting,” Robbins said. “O.K. Time to go shopping.”
When Robbins hits his stride, it starts to seem as if the only possible explanation is an ability to start and stop time.
"My goal isn’t to hurt them or to bewilder them with a puzzle but to challenge their maps of reality."
In pursuit of his craft, Robbins has ended up incorporating principles from such disparate fields as aikido, sales, and Latin ballroom dancing.
But physical technique....is merely a tool. “It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention,” he said. “Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”
So he is this Robbins guy, a new street photographer on the block? Well he's actually a highly successful street pickpocket. Indeed. But before I go further let me assure you he's a "gentleman thief" i.e. he gives back what he takes. In a similar way to Derren Brown, Robbins has found greater satisfaction in the practice of his psychological and physical techniques of control for the rewards of entertainment and education.
What he's also done is describe his ethos and his approach in ways that I, in that bubble that I live in, empathise with. I've often referred to the relationship between sport and street photography. The ability of a tennis player to place their racquet in just the right place, at the right angle, at the right time, all at speed, is a perfect metaphor for my practice of street photography. However when I consider the mental processes going on, the act of being drawn to a stranger on the street, to not simply observe them but to take, quite literally, that step further, I wonder if there's some deeper connection here.
"What I'm doing is taking inventory and making sight maps and getting a feel for who these people are and what I'm going to do with them. I'm a jazz performer - and I have to improvise with what I'm given."
Aha. Another illusion I'm fond of. The romantic anti-hero driven to pursue their craft beyond rational reason. Alone in the spot(sun)light, conjuring beauty out of thin air.
Idle thinking perhaps but, for me anyway, it's a little insight into why I do what I do.
If I haven't been out on the street for a while, my return is intoxicated by a sense of being both part and apart from the world of people. That moment of absolute focus on an individual is ordinarily reserved for friend or family. But, instead of an unconditional offer, the street pickpocket/photographer gives one of dispassion. The "mark" in return offers opportunity, oblivious to the transaction. For the street pickpocket the stakes are high, financial reward or criminal penalty. For the street photographer these consequences are at extreme ends of a spectrum of possibility.
Our pocket picking takes what we didn't even know we had.