Robyn dove head-first into photography as a student at George Washington University (she backed up a Liberal Arts major with a minor in Photography), but the seeds of her career as a portrait maker were planted years before, at her mother’s beauty salon. She would study the women looking back at themselves in the mirrors and the faces in the predictably salonish magazines, and soon she was taking her own pictures—of herself, of friends, family, whomever.

But it wasn’t until 1998 when an internship at Wired opened her eyes to the possibility that photography could be a career. Assisting for the likes of Dan Winters Jeff Minton and John Midgley inspired her “to take seriously the idea of a life as a photographer,” she says. For Twomey, a meaningful portrait is one that reveals something human and relatable. Often that means drawing outside the lines of the formulaic editorial portrait. “There is a sweet spot of confidence and honesty I look for in a portrait,” Twomey says. “It is often challenging to find and show both strength and vulnerability.”

Robyn Twomey’s large-scale color photographs of female rappers, music video models, and former Playboy bunnies are a lesson in how to like people. There are plenty of examples of mean-spirited close-up commercial photography out there. Twomey’s close treatment of her subjects reads more like a sincere attempt to get nearer in a let’s-have-a-cup-of-coffee way. Sometimes funny, but not disrespectful, Twomey is star-struck by the mystery of human radiance. As Quiet As It’s Kept is Robyn’s first project with Bailey’s Cafe and her first foray into performance-based photography.