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Mar 13, 2017 9:08 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Photographer, Raconteur Ken Robbins Dies

Mar 16, 2017 10:16 AM

Ken Robbins, 71, a photographer famous for his evocative pictures of the East End, and a fixture in the local art scene, died early March 9, 2017, at his home in Springs.

His photos—sometimes beautiful, always haunting—captured not just the scenery, but the heart of the Hamptons. He photographed the local landscapes at their best and their fiercest, and then hand colored, and later digitally enhanced, the pictures to achieve their mysterious effect. He made us see in a new way the beauty that is the Hamptons.

Writing the forward for one of his books, “The Hamptons Suite,” Anthony Brandt observed: “As sophisticated, witty and knowing as these pictures are, they are also much more, they reach us at a very deep level. They touch the unattainable.”

His later work branched out to still lifes that often humorously referenced famous works of art. His images have been frequently reproduced on book jackets, record album covers, and in magazines, including the cover of Time. Mr. Robbins also wrote and illustrated more than 20 highly acclaimed children’s books.

His work was shown at numerous galleries and museums, including the now-shuttered Benson and Pamela Williams galleries in the Hamptons, as well as at the Heckscher Museum in Huntington, and the downtown Whitney Museum in Manhattan.

Generous with his talent, he took the author’s photographs for many of his friend’s books and donated his work for many charity auctions. Generous with his time, he served on the board of the East End Special Players, and handled the artwork for their productions.

Away from the studio, Mr. Robbins relished lively discourse on topics that could range from philosophy to politics to pop culture. While he was always kind and positive, his erudite observations were keen and challenging.

He began photographing the East End in 1972 after moving here from New York City, where he had been a book editor at Doubleday. He met his wife, Maria Polushkin, there, where she was also an editor. After moving here, they and friends opened and ran a 70-seat movie theater—The Old Post Office Cinema—for a few years on Newtown Lane in the building that now houses the clothing line Theory. It showed classic and independent films.

Ms. Polushkin eventually became a cookbook editor and writer, and the two of them hosted numerous dinner parties to “test” the food, where the conversation flowed as fast as the wine.

Mr. Robbins was born in Brooklyn in 1945, raised in New Jersey, and graduated from Cornell University in 1967.

For the last couple of years, he was on dialysis and lately had an infection that he could not shake. At the same time, he was caring for his wife, who has advanced dementia, at home, with limited help. Life was difficult, but he kept a clear-headed, upbeat attitude about everything, and never appeared to feel sorry for his lot.

He is survived by his wife, Maria; his aunt, Sheila Robbins; his cousin, Peter Robbins, both part-time residents of East Hampton; as well as numerous other cousins, nieces and nephews.

A memorial service is scheduled for a later date.

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Ken was a remarkable man with an inexhaustible reservoir of kind-heartedness and devotion to friends and family. He also was insanely talented. Ken was one-of-a-kind and will be missed by many.
By harbor (252), East Hampton on Mar 14, 17 8:01 PM