Profile: Bill Baker, Photographer

I am Here- An Austin Photographic Retrospective

This summer Austin features one of its own in a solo photographic exhibit of the current body of work of Bill Baker.  The Smokin from Shootin Studio emerged onto the SoCo scene within the past year and represents an iconic series of progressive Austin images in digital.

From classic urban architecture and figurative study to natural scenery, Bill Baker’s work represents a world where futuristic hope springs out of the wreckage of industrialized technology.  Described as “a way out” and “a train to everywhere” these images stand as portraits of the future eternal in a time when doubt reigns as the zeitgeist of the day. 

It would be difficult for me to report objectively about this newly minted progressive archetype of an artist without coming clean:  he’s my brother.  But in my defense I feel that I stand not only as his biggest fan but probably his biggest critic.  We are hard on each other for a reason.  Caring always requires that.

Bill Baker is a force. Not just your ordinary man about town with a mission but a forward thinking rattler.  He touches base with the people, artists of every type, and he understands at a very basic level what drives current expression in one of the most progressive cities on the planet.    His images portray every inch of that.

Since the very time of our upbringing in a home filled with artifacts of human creativity, art absolutely everywhere, he embodied a way of seeing things for what they were and not getting caught up in social protocol of how they should be.  He calls it straight.  If it was a lemon, he’ll label it a lemon.  If it was a priceless paramount in time and space, you’ll hear it.  His body language will shoot straight out and there will be this wince that comes out of his left eye.  You get the feeling when you see an image he has created that it is part of a piece of truth.

As an artist, Bill Baker is sincere – painfully so.  Progressive culture needed of shot of Bill in the arm.  We need someone with pointed vision to steer us clear of the fungus and the glam.

Here comes my own honesty…

One day, I received a call from Bill and it went something like this, “You know, Beck.  I’m ready to shoot.  What do I need?”  Threw me back against a couch! Wait, wait, wait a minute Bill.  I OWN that.  It’s MY sport. You don’t just change family labeling at the slightest little whim.  There’s a pecking order here!  I’m the artist.

I’m the one- for years slid off her clothes at the slightest adrenaline thought in front of my Nikon F and a timed shutter.  I printed those silver halide images by hand under my stairwell using the kitchen sink with fixer.  I’m the one who dragged that Hasselblad 500C handheld through Southern Mexico for three months and threw up an exhibition in a law office by hanging wire from the ceiling rafters.  I’m the one who searched mountaineering supplies like a rabid cat for a watertight bag so that I could throw my Nikon D200 in a kayak and capture abstract water and light reflections at dusk!  I was a little bit put off!

It’s funny how time skews all things into familiarity.  Bill grew persistent and manic about his practice of photography, technical even. 

Within one year he carried around at any given time the Canon G10, Holga toy camera, Canon RXT converted to infrared, Canon RXS, my old Hasselblad 500c (with a digital back in negotiation) and one of the Fuji instant cameras, all digital.  There was no stopping him.

In his own words, which are golden, he states:

“The G10 is what I carry every day now.  It’s the best. I have the Hasselblad but have achieved nothing out of that soul…yet.  It will become part of my workflow soon and likely, once I have the digital back it will be everything and all of what I carry on a daily basis.

I poked a hole in a body cap and put it on my best camera and walked around for a week taking digital pinhole images.  I dream of having a Holga lens fitted to my Hasselblad with a digital back.  How cool would that be…  I love the experimental relationship that I have with my cameras.  I am constantly trying to incorporate the soul of film into my digital work.  There’s a film hole there that I am trying to fill without actually loading film.  But truthfully I need the immediacy of the digital format. If I could put a digital back on a Brownie, I would.  Having the opportunity to put a digital back on my Hasselblad would be priceless. 

I use Adobe Lightroom for post-processing but have not yet used Photoshop.  I haven’t found a need for Photoshop in my workflow because it would tempt me to make more changes to my images than I think I should.  I want to stay as pure as I can.  I missed the whole film thing but have so much respect for it that I want my images to be as real as possible.  But real is relative when you’re talking about photography.  You have to manipulate the image just enough to convey the moment or the feeling without running astray of reality.  But sometimes I run amok and it feels good.

I know what my sister is trying to tell me.  I dare you.

When I think back now the days of photographic passion and intrigue that revolved around the silver halide of my youth, it brings me a sly grin.  I remember thinking that it would be impossible for me to share this with anyone that would truly understand, not really. 

I realize now that he was there all along.  We share it and it exists between us.

Bill’s work can be seen at http://www.smokinfromshootin.com