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.

Artist 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 arrogancedeserving 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 inthe landscape. The pandemic, shutting down of daily life, and this year’s unsurprisingfires surrounding my town of Taos, not to mention the war in Ukraine, has broughthome the real issues, our undeniable connections to all that is, and our absolute refusalto 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.

Jeff Baker
Taos, New Mexico 


Project Statements

CODE - Visual Dialogues from the Lower East Side   

CONDUIT  Dallas   2014

During previous incarnations as an editorial photographer and even as a portraitist, I’d always been a documentarian of the human condition, taking on projects that involved the homeless, poverty and urban blight, as well as ethnographic studies in Central and South America, and Indonesia.  But no matter what I’d photographed, my underlying intention was to connect — to create an understanding between my subject and the viewer, even if that viewer was only me. 

I still shoot what is real and in front of me, but photographing people had become a reactive exercise and now I want to be contemplative--to slow down and give myself the opportunity to look more closely -- at everything.

I formerly lived half the year near New York and went to the city once or twice a week.  I’d lived there full time earlier in my career, but had lost sight of the minutiae, the fine details of life that were in front of me, and as that landscape slowly became background, what was unique became ordinary.

As the city continues to grow, modernize, replace its core population, and become the center of world wealth, those who struggle to stay and survive rely on outlets of private communication that are in plain sight -- they are coded messages expressing frustration and anger, possession and loss, resentment and resolution -- encrypted for their own consumption.

Eventually, that minutiae becomes foreground, as amazing abstractions emerge in an ever-changing collage of arguments and proclamations about turf and the politics of the ‘hood. Inhabiting bulletin boards of brick, glass, back doors and entryways, they are tucked away between the new buildings of a city that’s constantly reinventing itself. These are visual dialogues.

I’m playing with the limits of the digital medium, both in capture and in print. I’m pulling all the information possible out of a digital file and shoving that data to the edge of its ability to record accurately, while attempting to honor the subjects with a more substantive voice in the process.

I feel I’m finally looking at the essence of these artists, though they are mostly anonymous to me. It’s a kind of faceless group portrait. I want these prints to have the vitality and cacophony of the urban street, and engage the viewer in that dialogue.

GRIDLOCKED                                                        CONDUIT  Dallas  2016                          

My freshman show at Conduit two years ago concerned documentation of the visual dialog of the New York street. I wanted the prints to exude the vibrancy and voice of the conversations plastered on the city’s doors and brick facades. I was attracted to the chaos that was present, and only now am aware of how it was both a metaphor for and deliverance from the chaos surrounding the illnesses that compelled me to rebuild my life.

I went back to shoot in the city and found myself veering away from earlier subject matter and becoming attracted to the more abstract. I wanted to appropriate less, a method I’d used to reinforce tenets of the documentary ethic, and which had been the core component of my history as a photographer, and instead invest in crafting a more visceral viewpoint.

I now live in Taos, as far removed from urban life as I’ve ever been; home to awe inspiring natural beauty as well as early American Modernism, and also home to the late artist Agnes Martin. Agnes applied the grid for the sense of precision, structure and order it gave her as a panacea for bouts of schizophrenia. I’ve applied the grid rather unwittingly; a grounding mechanism that has helped me rebound from the emotional chaos of illness represented in my first exhibit CODE. I even use an Amsler grid, a device to monitor the progression of macular degeneration in my left eye.

While the content is evolving, what remains constant is the obsession with contemporary printing processes and the ability to produce a vitally dynamic image, something that makes one feel they can pull the image off the printed sheet, or just dive into it. 

TOWN CRIER                                                        CONDUIT  Dallas   2019

Intro from Conduit:

New York is an old growth forest of American culture that is being clear-cut for the new generation of cash crops. At least, that’s the story that Jeff Baker’s photographs tell. They’re also images that illustrate the rich gesture-as-color quality that a photographic print can produce. They are walls, tattooed and claimed by the masses, brandished with the grit that the city is known for. This body of work, about 5 years in the making, has achieved that parity that every artist strives for in their career: the parity of meaning and form.

This body of work began as an effort from the artist to try to capture the cogent whispers of the street artists, splayed chaotically among the many layers of paint that dress the city. Over time, the compositions would grow inwardly contemplative. Thoughtful fields of color that can’t be recreated in paint.

STILL LIFES – Portraits of the Inventors

These are images of industrial age and earlier tools, imbued with the personalities, and maybe even thought processes of their makers. I'm interested in the workings of the mind that would have crafted these implements; a visual and task based approach far removed from the algorithmic constructs of the information age. My process involves both ends of the photographic technological spectrum. Starting with a large format camera and out of production instant negative film, I then scan the resulting negative and output an archival pigment print, bridging the gap between analog and digital in a fairly seamless manner. It is a wink and a nod to the disconnect both my and my parents generation have faced in the leap from an industrial and service based mindset into the present era. 

I REMEMBER WHO I WAS – Portraits of the Traumatically Brain Injured 

It has been said that empathy - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another - is at the heart of the photographic act. This portrait project, examining survivors of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), was inspired by interviews with returning war veterans, whose comments consistently touched on the frustration of their injuries being invisible, unlike the prosthetics and scars of their fellow soldiers. Their behaviors were often interpreted as laziness, lack of intelligence, or worse.

The concept for this project uses densely detailed portraits, intensely lit, to map the face’s imperfections as an analogy to the injury underneath - in effect, making their unseen scar "visible".  These are psychological studies, with an intent  to bridge the gulf - create an understanding - between viewer and subject. I want to create a transformative moment in the heart and mind of the person who would normally walk away.


These series and individual images are available in limited edition, 100% archival rag pigment prints.  I print all the images myself. 

Conduit Gallery interview - 2020 get off your duff Pandemic series

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