Shawnee Mission Faces: Michael Robinson, architectural photographer with a soft spot for historic buildings

After more than 20 years as an architectural and interior photographer, Michael Robinson has developed an eye for beautiful buildings.

He discovered his passion for architecture when he traveled to Poland with his then-girlfriend in high school. He didn’t put it together until years later, after looking through his photo albums, but at the time, he was simply amazed at how old everything was. That’s coming from someone raised at 109th and U.S. 69, in newly built-out Overland Park.

After taking a photography class at Blue Valley Northwest, creating a dark room in his basement at home, working for his high school paper, and graduating in 2000, Robinson earned his degree in commercial advertising at Brooks Institute of Photography. 

He estimates he’s finished hundreds of photography projects, and many of them stand out, particularly his early work in Chicago, where he lived for years before moving back to Kansas City. Some of his most memorable work was shooting the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for HOK and other sports arenas. Locally, he has shot many local projects, including the Inn at Meadowbrook Park, where he visited on a cool day in May.

Pre-COVID (and pre-children), he used to enjoy playing golf. Lately, their family also enjoys traveling, especially to Colorado (Steamboat Springs is their favorite haunt there). He lives in Prairie Village with his wife, Carrie Robinson, their two children and three dogs.

There’s a lot of great architecture schools around, and a lot of those people feed into Kansas City. And I think, in the past 10 years, especially, I’ve noticed just the level of design really taking a step up.

Before moving back I didn’t realize how good the architecture was in Kansas City.

And I don’t think a lot of people do. There’s a lot of sports architecture as well. Some of my bigger projects have been on the sports side. Like I shot the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for HOK, so that was a pretty cool job.

I also shot Rogers Place in Canada for them, which is where the Oilers play, and Little Caesars Arena, which is where the Pistons and Red Wings play.

The Arts and Heritage Center was a fun shoot.
I got hired by SFS Architecture, and I’ve worked with them a lot in the past. It was fun coming from Johnson County, being a Johnson Countian, to be there and document history.

So that’s one of the things I like about shooting architecture. What I do is I’m documenting spaces, and hopefully the images will live for a long, long time, and be a window into the past.

So it was kind of cool documenting Johnson County Museum, just ‘cause there was so much history in it. And I knew that I was also going to be documenting the history that was in it, but also be hopefully contributing to a little piece of history of it at the same time.

We always need models to throw in for scale, so my wife and kids are in a couple of their shots. It’s always fun when I can get them in a shot, and they love it too.

The trend has been to add people into shots now. And it does add scale and gives some life to it, breaks up the lines a little bit. So that’s been interesting ‘cause I have to kind of be a director of where people go and where they’ll look best.

It definitely adds scale and life and movement. I’ll take a shot without people, and it may just look like any old space, but it comes to life, literally, because you put people in it.

Architecture is very subjective. People have different tastes. Just like certain people like a certain brand of clothes or dress a certain way or drive a certain car ‘cause they like it. Everyone has their own opinions and ideas.

Me personally? I like a little more modern than traditional — and I think you’re seeing more and more of that pop up, I guess a transitional style where it’s got a little bit of both, it’s not super ultra modern, I’m not into that, but it’s got a softer feel to it.
Even this, the Inn in Meadowbrook, it’s made to look a little more traditional, but it’s got a modern flair to it.

I’m not an architect. I mean, I’ve learned things throughout the years, I can look for flaws (laughs). I’m a visual person, and I can just tell when I see it if I like it, as with most people.

It’s more of a feeling for me. It’s hard for me to put it into words.