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Interview and Portfolios: Evan Baden

Lauren, 2010 from Technically Intimate -- Evan Baden

We are pleased to announce that three new portfolios of photographs by Evan Baden can now be viewed on the Photographer Showcase. Evan Baden is one of fifteen photographers included in our current group exhibition The Nude – Classical, Cultural, Contemporary. The photographs in our current exhibit range from classical studies to the exploration of cultural and contemporary themes; some are playful and some investigate more existential realms, while others manage to combine multiple elements. Baden’s photographs explore contemporary culture, technology and human relationships. I have asked Baden to tell us about his background and his images. --Anne Kelly

Anne Kelly:     How were you exposed to the medium of photography?

Evan Baden:     I never had a very large exposure to photography. I’m not one of those artists that will tell you I have been photographing since I was a kid. My first foray into photography was my senior year of high school, which means that I have been photographing for exactly 10 years. I remember thinking I had to take an art course to graduate – it was one of the few things I had left to do – so photo is what I elected to take. A year and a half later, I left Luther College, where I was planning to go into chemical engineering, and enrolled in the College of Visual Arts in St. Paul. It was a drastic shift, but one I never looked back from.

Shannon with iPod from The Illuminati -- Evan Baden
AK:     To my understanding your images are staged but you consider your work to be documentary. How does your process work?

EB:     I think that the word “documentary” carries too much baggage for most people. For some reason, a lot of people feel that documentary photography has to carry with it some sort of “caught-in-the-momentness” that staged photography cannot (I actually disagree with the notion that staged images cannot seem as if they are caught-in-the-moment, as my own images are often thought to have been captured in that way–but that is a whole other argument). In the end, all photography is highly subjective. It comes down to what we as artists choose to show to our viewers in order to make a point or create the feeling we want them to have.

I feel that my images are a recording of and event or events that are happening in contemporary culture. Not singular events, but large cultural shifts. And even though the images are staged and highly constructed, they can be looked back upon some years from now and the viewer should be able to understand some of what was happening in 2007. In that sense, they are a document of the time.

AK:     Your three series The Illuminati, Technically Intimate and Under the Influence are all connected by electronic media. What was the evolution from one series to the next? When you started The Illuminati had your conceived of the future projects or did one just organically lead to the next?

EB:     The evolution of my work happened organically, with one project slowly leading into the next, as my current interests begin to fade and new ones take their place.

I began with The Illuminati really because of the light. It was a reaction to a purely visual interest at first. As I worked on it, and began to watch the people I was interested in photographing, the realization of the connection/isolation paradox of the device became more and more evident until it was hard for me not to see it anymore. I made The Illuminati with an unbiased view in mind, a simple and elegant presentation of something that might be a problem in the years to come.

Nikki with iBook, 2006 and Nick with Chrysler, 2006 from The Illuminati -- Evan Baden

After The Illuminati, I wanted to try and focus on some of the more negative aspects of technology, namely the idea that technology – especially personal communication technology – seems to come between personal relationships. I had all sorts of images that I wanted to make. I came across a website where couples were paid $1000 each for a week’s worth of footage of them “being in a relationship,” which included their sex lives. The way the couples interacted with the camera – as if it was a third person in the relationship – sparked my interest and was the perfect example of technology interrupting the most personal of acts between a couple. This was also right around the time the Sexting phenomenon was just becoming visible. Technically Intimate centers around the attempt by young people to use those same communications devices to transmit intimacy to one another. What I found was that whatever intimacy there might have been in the original act was filtered out by the technology (especially when viewed by a third party) and the acts become more pornographic than anything else.

Working on Technically Intimate and seeing the way that young people posed for the camera got me thinking about the way that they learn those poses; which is how I ended up focusing on the way that popular culture and media effect those who grow up surrounded by it. Under the Influence focuses less on the technology that transmits the images than the content of the images transmitted. And while the technology plays a part in that transmission, the work is more about the way that young people learn to express themselves in an overtly sexual manner (perhaps without fully grasping the overtness of the symbols) and the way that the media they absorb makes them crave the spotlight like never before.

AK:     In your writings about The Illuminati you describe the electronic media we carry as divinity in our pockets and purses – please expand on this.

EB:     That line is something that I have thought about for a long time. It still amazes me the amount of information and connection I receive from my phone. I really can’t imagine my life without my phone, much less the Internet in general. These devices, and the ability to have immediate access to information and connection to people around the world is really astonishing when you think about what existed 20 years ago. That ability, as odd as it sounds, to reach out and touch someone like that, is really a mystical power and is probably as close to divinity as we will ever get.

Jenna, 2009 from Technically Intimate -- Evan Baden

AK:     The images in Technically Intimate are staged based on images sourced from the Internet – and using models solicited via the internet. What was the process of selecting the images and your intensions with this project?

EB:     The images that were used for Technically Intimate were all found on the Internet, on websites that specifically trafficked in pornographic or semi-pornongraphic (if that is even a thing) images that had been taken by one person and sent to another. Through some turn of events that image, whose intention was to remain private, found its way to the Internet for the whole world to see.

As I began the project, there weren’t a lot of these sites (now there are thousands) but the imagery was still quite vast. I began to notice that there were really only a few different ‘types’ of images that were taken. I went about making my images based on the most interesting images from each ‘type’, the idea being to capture – in general – the way that these images were being made.

As for the models, most were found soliciting volunteers from Craigslist. I would post an ad for the project, explaining what I was doing and who I was. Then, with the model, would select an image from the number I wanted to make.

It was important to me that the people that modeled in the images weren’t being paid to do so. It was important that the reason they wanted to be in an image was not money, but that they really wanted to be there. That has always been important for me with any of the projects. I want the making of my images to be more of a cooperative experience than an employer/employee relationship. I actually still keep in touch with just about everyone that modeled for me.

Nicole, 2009 from Technically Intimate -- Evan Baden

AK:     Your images are quite colorful (especially in Technically Intimate) and the exhibition prints are quite large. Tell us about your use of color and scale.

EB:     The color and composition of the images comes down to me wanting to make an aesthetically pleasing image. The goal is to pull in a viewer with an image that can’t be ignored, then to have them either confront something that they are uncomfortable with or explore something they are interested in. The image has to be aesthetically pleasing to get the viewer there in the first place.

The size is important because of the small details in the image that can be overlooked when the images are smaller. In the image that is currently hanging at photo-eye (Lauren), there are Post-it notes on the floor next to the character in the image. It is important for the viewer to realize that as silly and random as the action of the character might appear, there is actually a fair amount of thought that goes into it.

There is also something about confronting a person in an image that begins to boarder on life-size. There is just a different reaction from the viewer. The viewer begins to relate to the characters in a different way.

And finally, and this is more important with Under the Influence, the expansiveness of the image actually begins to place the viewer in the same space as the characters in the images. As you step closer to the image, you are enveloped by it, and you are no longer ‘looking in’ on an image, but instead you are observing an action.

AK:     You had an exhibit of Technically Intimate in Minneapolis that was expected to cause an uproar. I am guessing there is a good story here?

EB:     Unfortunately not really. I began Technically Intimate as part of the Jerome Fellowship for Emerging Artists in Minneapolis in 2008. As part of the Fellowship, an exhibit was to be held the following year featuring the work of the five Fellows. Since this was only my second body of work and I was really unsure of myself, I didn’t show the work to anyone except the writer for the catalog and the administrator of the grant. The exhibit was to take place at MCAD in Minneapolis, and there was a great worry about the work I was going to show (there were only rumors about what I had been making). In the end, like usually happens, there was a big worry but no real controversy. Viewers were uncomfortable, which was the intent, but the images are so well composed, lit, printed, and presented that it is hard to chalk them up to ‘porn’. So, that’s the story, and it happens just about every time the work shows.

Poppin' Bottles, 2013 from Under the Influence -- Evan Baden

AK:     In Under the Influence you are staging portraits with teens in which they emulate iconic figures that they admire — your premise being that young people are constantly flooded by imagery of iconic figures –- almost at the level of religion -- which shapes behavior. This is also a work in progress —what have you learned so far?

The most interesting thing I have seen while making the work is how seriously the people I am working with take the making of the images. To me, their level of cooperation was unexpected. The teens I am working with are really quite fantastic, no matter how ridiculous what we are doing is. They know exactly what I want them to do, can execute it exactly the way I want, and take the shoot more seriously than some professional models I have worked with. I have realized just what a ‘big deal’ the shoots are for them.

Gone Wild... from Under the Influence -- Evan Baden

AK:     The titles in Under the Influence are very important to the work – please tell us a little more about the them.

The titles for the images are important for me because they are the last remnant of the original source image. Again, the images I am making with these teens are all iconic images of pop stars or famous people important to the models. I ask them to re-perform a particular image that features one of those icons. These are usually from magazines, which often will put large text either on the image itself or just next to the image. In the end, the image I make with the model is usually somewhat removed from the original image, so the titles – which are taken word-for-word from the text that appeared on or with the original image – are the only thing that is left ‘as it was’ from the source. The notable thing about the titular text is the way that it interacts with, and informs, the actions of the characters in the images.

Evan Baden shooting Gone Wild...

View Evan Baden's Portfolios

A selection of Baden's work can currently be seen as part of The Nude on exhibit at photo-eye through April and features the work of fifteen photographers. Two portfolios of work from the show can be viewed here.

For additional information about Evan Baden's work or to acquire a photograph, please contact the gallery at (505) 988-5152 x202 or by email.