REDMILK MEETS THE LONDON-BASED PHOTOGRAPHER, ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR IAN DAVID BAKER. FAMOUS FOR HIS ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE YOUNG GENERATION AND FOR HIS ABSTRACT WORKS LEADS US INTO HIS CREATIVE VISION.
The life and illustrations in your works have a unique touch in which the sensitivity of your eye transpires. What are the essential features in the choice of the subjects and locations that you want to represent?
Apart from art school life drawing,where a teacher said I had a natural line to my work, as I was photographing male models in the eighties, I started to work from my pictures. Then I went back to life drawing evening classes at Chelsea Art School. Looking at the drawings I’d done the teacher saw I was copying my photos too much and gave sound advice to concentrate more on the drawing, just using the photos for reference then not looking at them in order to finish the work. From 2000 I drew with The Association of Erotic Artists life drawing classes, that added another perspective and challenge. Then I hired some models myself to draw from life at Cable Street Studios, in London. Artists there also organized some life models for some sessions. From that I got connections to photograph female models in carnival masks as some were initially shy about showing their faces so it became a series.
In the eighties you captured an era marked by the beginning of a true youth revolution. What did this historical period represent for you and what is its meaning today?
Initially it was the late Seventies, I started working for gay magazines as a freelance designer and illustrator and later a photographer, though I knew very little about photo techniques, I had the chance to learn on the job. Nothing was planned. As I got more proficient I had a yearning to photograph people and places in London and on the South East coast of England.The latter became a theme from my first photo book “Out of Season” So my portfolio extended beyond models and sharpened my eye for street photography that worked for both subjects and the fashion, the mods revival, the new romantics, skinheads, were all incidental to just making pictures. I was just recording what came along. I didn’t realise it would be a historical period much later.
How important is for you the idea of “real” in what you represent before the camera?
I have rarely made photographs in a studio setting, with lights and backdrops. I wanted to keep it real by using everyday backgrounds for models and street photography is in itself real as it’s there happening before the eye. I try to compose the frame, but often a happy accident will occur and make the picture better. There is now far too much over editing, so there is little of the original composition, tone, colour etc.
Your photographs have something romantic in their harsh reality, where the bodies and situations you shoot lead us to a focused meaning. Do you think that in contemporary times we have lost the concept of photojournalism?
It must be my character, someone said every photograph you make is a self portrait, meaning it includes one’s character. I can’t speak for other photographers. Phone photos are a blessing and a curse, people don’t notice edges or straighten horizons or perpendiculars. I can live without shared photos of food and their darling children or pets, that belong on Fessupbook not photo sharing sites.. but there are some amazing observational shots of details that go unnoticed by most people.
In your work you encompass art, photography and illustration. Which are your creative steps?
It’s all my complete oeuvre , it’s all variety. It is a compulsion to create.
Abstraction is at the core of your creations. Tell us about the focus which informs your work with its shapes and colors.
My commercial life as a designer and illustrator was often to do work in this or that style, so when I got the opportunity to paint again for myself, I wanted be completely abstract. Abstract Expressionism didn’t work for me until recently when I close my eyes and draw with my left hand losing some control. But mainly I needed a starting point and it was barges on canals in East London and in Amsterdam. Initially they were representational then the shapes, textures and the suggested earth tones with occasional bright colours took over until the source material was lost. It developed into hard edged abstraction, which is funny as technical drawing was my worst subject at school apart from maths! Some of my better work involves painting over old paintings the scrubbing and sanding back, selectively to reveal parts of the original painting. Then in between painting and drawing I create series of torn paper collages.
Your photographs lead us to a sort retromania, what does the word “nostalgia” mean to you?
It means I’ve lived long enough for my work to become archive…
You worked with fashion designer J. W. Anderson. Can you tell us how this collaboration came up and how was working with one of the young sensations of the fashion world?
It was all Jonathan’s ideas, he bought a lot of my photos after ringing me out of the blue, having bought my book Younger Days. And a year on got some enlargements for the wall of his house. then he sold some of the photos he bought on his website, which given some of the images was brave, he likes to push boundaries.Then later the had the idea for my images on merchandise and a book. I don’t know how he manages his time, always rushing off somewhere in the world. I worked more closely with Andrew, Head of Image at JWA. It certainly rebooted interest in my work. I now only use Instagram to promote my current and archive.
J. W. Anderson said he was impressed by your photographs for the authentic twist you gave to the young Londoners of that time. Tell us something about that period and an anecdote that has remained in your heart.
This is best illustrated by going to The Photographer’s Gallery site.