The Darkroom of Roger Baker
Featuring the Abstract and Surreal Erotic Photography of Roger Baker
I love publishing Soft Screams Magazine. The joy it brings me is delivered on many emotional levels and felt on many psychological platforms. One would think that greatest joy lies with being surrounded constantly by all of this beautiful and sensual artistry, and while that is one of those great joys, it is not the greatest joy. The greatest joy, my friend, is in the learning. The greatest joy is extrapolating both knowledge and wisdom from all of you who read ,share and contribute to this magazine but especially from the rare insights of true educators and artistic elders such as the blessing that was bestowed upon us; a blessing named Roger Baker.
Good gawd, the more you read Roger Baker’s interview, the more you realize that you are not alone in your feelings of insecurity, desires to be understood, or moral outrage of society’s theatrical “sustenance supersedes substance” allegory. The more you read his interview the greater the impact of Socrates immortal paradoxical reflection “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing at all”. The reason why Socrates’s words never rang so true? Reading Roger Baker’s interview ( like the true educator that he is) if you read his words slowly and apply some critical thinking skills coupled with humility, you should walk away from this article; smarter, relieved, entertained, amused, and inspired. Roger Baker has not only mastered the art of photography but he has mastered that ubiquitous search for balance between his artistry, artistic integrity, and business.
I ask that you do NOT take my enthusiasm over his artistic intellectual prowess as if his artistic expressions are indicative of the typical (and admittedly stereotypical) ultra-conservative, uptight, educator/artist. No my friend, Mr. Roger Baker is light years away from that stigma. (Personally, I have no idea why you would ever think that when you take into consideration that this is Soft Screams Magazine..duh)
Roger Baker appears as if he a mild mannered high school teacher of photography, but his works of art are so powerful, sensual, erotic, and ultra-creative that the imagery he creates doesn’t correlate with the imagery of the man behind these art pieces, but don’t you just adore the entire juxtaposition of it all? He looks so cute and adorable that I just want to put him in the car beside me and take him everywhere I go, but then Roger Baker creates these abstract, and surreal nudes and erotic fine art photography pieces that just mesmerize you into a trance . When you look at his images, remember that he is the “real deal” using much more lighting and preparation to create these pieces than Photoshop digital manipulations.
by Belladonna Del Rio
What’s your background in Photography? When and why did you get started? Was it for the glamour? The money? Pure kicks?
I have enjoyed photography since an early age. At 10 years old I spent all my summer camp allowance on film. I can distinctly remember the moment 20 years ago when a friend mentioned he’s always wanted his own darkroom. It was the proverbial light bulb going off in my brain. I did some research and built a professional darkroom in my garage, having never been in one! I loved watching those images appear in the chemicals. And I loved trying to duplicate the look, the lighting, the contrast, and the feel of my favorite photographers. Money? It’s like the jazz trombone player who was only in it for the money…
What is fun and rewarding about photography?
For me it was always the image. When that satisfied me it was everything. And then, of course, having others react to the images is always rewarding. I learned early that contests mean nothing. Contests are just the opinion of one or two judges that doesn’t necessarily reflect on your public. It’s great to be accepted into galleries and magazines but you must always follow your heart for better or for worse.
What do you dislike about photography?
Weddings. Contests. Clients who don’t know what they want. People that buy expensive equipment and think that it makes them a good photographer. And here’s a thought: Photographers are painting with light. If you’re going to scratch up your negatives, throw paint on your prints, create multimedia collages, fine. Just don’t call it photography.
Who are some of your favorite photographers? Why?
Early on I took a week long seminar with Bruce Barnbaum who studied directly with Ansel Adams and is a master at every step in the photographic process. I always loved Ansel. Perhaps because he was a musician and I am also. Many of his references are to music (“tonal range”) and I related to that. Edward Weston found beauty and drama in so many places. Horst is still the master of continuous lighting and worked for Vogue for 60 years! And, of course, Helmut Newton. I loved watching his documentary video. You can see what a whimsical character he was and how he loved working with beauty of every kind. And I owe a debt of gratitude to Oscar Lozoya who, from early on, was open to viewing and commenting on my work.
How would you describe your style? Consider anything and everything from color to historical eras and more.
I would describe my style as dramatic and whimsical. I like images to jump out at the viewer but I never want to get too serious about my subject matter. I like surrealism like Dali and Magritte and I always liked the early Hollywood portrait artists that worked for the big studios. You look back at a lot of those images and they were very daring in form and technique. Color is harder to work with in terms of achieving fantasy. The early film maker Eisenstein had a wonderful quote: “The closer you get to reality the more conspicuous it is that it isn’t real.” I like working with sets and props. You can see in Horst’s work, and that of Matisse, that he collected some wonderful odds and ends that show up in more than one image.
You have been a professional photographer for over 20 years and you are a very experienced photography educator who teaches a new class every month in your hometown of Albuquerque New Mexico.
Which do you prefer? Where is your heart really at these days? Teaching people how to become better photographers or actually practicing the art form yourself?
I have always loved teaching and feel that I have a natural knack for it. Being a bit OCD I have put all my knowledge into several books of notes (that I continually update) for my students. But I love any and all of the photography that I do now. I like getting a particular result. I like portrait work and I also teach Photoshop. I like shooting musicians and creating CD graphics. I even enjoy the challenge of Real Estate and product photography. I describe images to my students in this way: Every image that exists has these things in common: Subject and Ground (background, everything that isn’t the subject), Light, Composition, Contrast, Technique. What Art photography adds is the conspicuous presence of the photographer (what you might call style). That’s what separated Weegee from the image of the traffic backed up on Interstate 25. I tell my students: If something is worth pointing a camera at, it is worth taking at least 10 different images. Each new angle or composition becomes more creative. And more often than not the 9th or 10th image would be the one they liked best.
Describe the atmosphere when you’re on a shoot. Do you play music? Do you talk with the models between shots?
Of course you always want models comfortable. I always have music playing to set the mood. Once the basic set up is there body language and expressions can be everything. I ask my models to practice expressions in the mirror before every shoot so they can easily recall those expressions when needed. Most of my models I have worked with over and over again so they can get comfortable and include their own ideas. Also, most models, once they have seen a finished product, are excited about doing more and adding their input to future shoots.
I know there are a lot of technical aspects, but personally, what distinguishes a good photographer from a bad one?
A good photographer gets the job done. That job it achieving your vision, whether it’s a Denny’s menu, a political billboard, or a visceral reaction. Out of all our experiences, from restaurants to movies to art galleries to travel, intimate physical human contact involves the most senses. If a photographer of nudes can elicit a sensual response from one of their photographs he or she is doing a good job.
How do you communicate with people? Are you patient? Are you friendly? How open are you to clients’ requirements?
I feel I’m very friendly but sometimes chemistry just clashes. In those cases I’ve learned to end the experience quickly. I’m not one of those photographers that can spend hours and hours on a project. I always have a vision. I get the background the way I want it. I get the lighting the way I want it. The model is selected for that vision and then comes in does their job. When shooting with 12 frames on a roll and doing all the darkroom post work I don’t want to be developing 10 rolls of film. One magazine cover shot I did I spent 5 hours on set up. Three models were involved and we ended up using the first shot. If a client wants me to be someone else they should just get someone else. I don’t mind a challenge but if it’s all work and no artistic satisfaction that’s where I draw the line. I just don’t get these photographers who take 1000 images and pick the best one. It’s the old infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters writing a great novel.
Out of this collection, this image is probably my personal favorite.
(Now for the hardest photography question ever)
In your opinion, why do I love this image so much? *Time to turn on the empathy skills*
You are at first drawn to the natural beauty. Then the drama of the lighting kicks in. And then you have to start thinking: What is going on? Can I figure it out or is it one of those things that is open to interpretation? It is set in space so that the viewer seems to be about 12 feet from the model and there is the empathetic voyeuristic aspect. The model is looking in the window at herself. Is that you, the viewer?
One great way I’ve found to see a viewer’s reaction is to hold a print up in front of your chest for the viewer to see and then watch their eyes as they view the print. Ideally, they should focus on the subject, let their eyes travel to every corner, and constantly return to the subject. The longer those eyes keep moving the better I have accomplished my goal.
Could you tell our readers the inspiration behind this artwork? Would you share with us, just a little technical information behind this gorgeous art piece?
This is inspired by the surrealism of Dali and Magritte. Everything you see in this image was there on the set, no digital or darkroom manipulation. The model and the camera are the only real things. The flowers, window, cat, and clock are flat image prints that I shot previously just for this set up. I then printed them to size and placed them in the set. The model seems to be one with the camera and could be said to be giving birth to the final image. I wanted it to be amusing, contemplative, and open to interpretation. The contrast is there between the soft body and the hard camera. One’s senses get involved when thinking about smelling the flowers, petting the cat, seeing the bright sun out the window, perhaps hearing the breeze and the ticking of the clock (a direct nod to Dali). And although the nude does not come off as overtly sexual there is always a sensual memory or fantasy that the viewer can summon. The distance from the model is supposed to make the viewer feel that they are in the same room.
Let’s assume you can travel in time.
What advice would you give today, to David Butcher, the day before his first shoot?
Where don’t you want to see David Butcher, five years from now?
Five years down the road you hopefully do not want people saying you are another (whoever). Hopefully you are yourself with your own recognizable style.
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