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JEFF BAKER

ARTIST  |  PHOTOGRAPHER

As a small child in Paris in the mid 1950s, I went to the Louvre with my mom two to three times a week. The Winged Victory was my jungle gym (literally!) and I spent hours lying on the floor, looking up at a ceiling full of Titians. My exposure to art was early, direct, and continuous.

I didn’t start out wanting to be an artist, though I was surrounded by art 24/7. My parents certainly didn’t encourage it, though my Mom was a well regarded gallerist, and talented artist in her own right. I didn’t have great hand skills, but my child brain had been patterned by my experience. Still, all of that wouldn’t have set my path, had I not stumbled into Garry Winogrand’s classes at UT Austin in the mid 1970’s, and found myself being critiqued by Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Larry Fink and John Szarkowski among others, who came to lecture.

I’ve had the great fortune of successfully navigating a 35 year editorial and advertising career, while continually working on personal projects, including large-format ethnographic studies in South America and Indonesia, and landscapes informed by the relationship of man to his surroundings. 

In 2013 I left the advertising world after a series of illnesses drove me to reconsider what I wanted out of life. I needed a reset and started over, using an ancient view camera and single hard light to shoot black/white still-lifes. It freed me and broke down the patterned constructs of how I’d worked previously.

I'm profoundly grateful to have worked in this field through its transition from analog to a more expansive medium. While embracing photography’s remarkable technological advances, I adhere to its philosophical underpinnings, giving me great confidence in my direction.

Jeff Baker

Artist’s Statement

Even Cartier-Bresson got bored and possibly exhausted by the reactive nature of the photographic medium. After photographing humans in action for 35 years, life’s lessons and advancing age have turned me in a more contemplative direction.

My remarkable tutelage fully engrained the idea of photography as document in my mind. It is what the medium does best. However, its transition from analog to digital has re-written the rules of the documentary narrative, and consequently, it’s potential.

In New York, my work centered on the graffitied walls of the city, a pastiche of dialog between artists. It is urban encryption as a means of intercommunication within a neighborhood’s core population. Initially focusing on graphic content, my work evolved towards an interest in the pattern, colors, and compositions between the easily recognizable, a photographic approach akin to genre painters. The prints are huge, exploiting the three dimensionality possible in large scale presentation, while documenting the emotional content and thoughts of the community.

In New Mexico, still in search of a more deconstructed view of the accuracy inherent in a photograph, I’ve played with abstractions that appeared in a Jemez landscape of burnt trees and mountain snow, within the living forest. These images are interspersed with more conventional landscapes to complete an essay linking the interplay between environmental collapse and our own pandemic disaster. The analogy of the fallen among survivors couldn’t be more stark.

What is the difference between a virus attacking humanity, and humanity being the virus attacking Gaia, Mother Earth? What’s the difference in a process that thins the human herd, and for example, the natural course of the burning of forest undergrowth? In both cases, nature is responding to over-population. 

Modern man is in Nature’s crosshairs. His utter disregard of the symbiotic relationship of all living things in spite of everything science is teaching us, is  counterproductive to the needs of a healthy planet and displays an arrogance deserving of a final retribution.

When I started this project, the idea of environmental collapse and self destruction was  secondary to the inherent and somewhat ironic beauty of the “nature morté” I found in the landscape. The pandemic, shutting down of daily life, and this year’s unsurprising fires surrounding my town of Taos, not to mention the war in Ukraine, has brought home the real issues, our undeniable connections to all that is, and our absolute refusal to acknowledge it.

I wanted a representation that looks at our existence as folly.
Gaia is one pissed off bitch, betting our headlong race to oblivion is swift and final.