Poem Baker the London based photographer initially captured us with her intriguing work Autastic. It’s an exploration of one child’s life living with autism through intimate black and white images immersing you in the world of the young Hamish’s life. It is this intimacy that is evident in much of her work. The Hymns From The Bedroom series, where she explores London’s youth culture in all its diverse, individualistic sub culture glory is a telling work founded on that tenet of intimacy. Now signed to an agency Poem discusses the challenges of photographing ‘autism’ but also waxes lyrical about exploring her ‘colour palette’ and delving into fashion.
We always like to know a photographer’s journey into the world of still images so go ahead.
I came into photography accidentally really. Before photography, I worked in theatre. I came to London from Cambridge and ended up staying because I felt there were more opportunities here [London]. But while here I became exhausted with the whole ‘theatre life’ it was a never-ending battle trying to make things happen-it was glorified administration really. I was frustrated because I was not able to be creative. So, I applied and started a short course in photography and I found out I was quite good at it.
Then it was a process of honing your photographic skills.
Well yes. I started to shoot for several years doing my own thing and then I was lucky enough that I was discovered. In fact, for years no one would look at my work even though I felt that a lot of my work was good. I got really frustrated but I realised that I had to keep at it and then finally someone did an article on Hymns From The Bedroom and then that was it, suddenly everyone was contacting me.
That period where people were not recognising your work must have been demoralising?
In many ways, it was. I contacted so many publications-like thirty or forty magazines and no one got back to me. While I knew, I was good, I also knew I loved photography and this mattered to me more than anything so I just continued doing it. I think most people who are in the creative arts do it partly because it is something they need to do to express their creative side-you just continue-it’s the passion for the art.
Let’s talk a bit about photographic inspirations.
Well the people I admire as photographers are ostensibly black and white photographers like Francesca Woodman-I think black and white creates iconic images in many ways. Truthfully while I love black and white I am starting to get a colour palette which I am exploring more and more so this is an exciting time.
This is an added dimension to your work?
I suppose when you start out you just choose whether you are a black and white photographer or photographer who likes using colour. I am not a massively technical photographer so it was literally just my camera and my flash gun but colour is more commercial and you need to do that if you want to get into that market.
There’s the passion of photography and the harsh reality that you need to make money.
Exactly. When I was first signed I was ‘oh gosh’ how do you make money? It is literally only in the last few years I have started to understand the financial aspect of being a photographer and I have learnt so much-I did not even have portfolio before I signed with Angela who has really pushed me to explore colour so I have delved into that side with projects like Clowns. I really want to start shooting for those fashion mags and I really like what they are doing-Rankin and Corrine Day have changed the face of fashion. I was really surprised because I did not think that I would be into fashion photography but it is so interesting and I am excited to shoot more of that type of work.
Ok so let’s talk about your black and white images-firstly Autastic we loved that as an intimate piece looking at autism.
I have known Hamish since he was a kid, he is one of the most fascinating kids and I just wanted to photograph him. It was a challenge to photograph autism because it is not necessarily something you can see and so it was a challenge to show people his world. It took me a while to get my head around it and how I was hoping to use the images and of course how I was going to take the images. I wanted my images to cut through some of the negative ways autism can be portrayed in the media. I wanted to bring a positive spin on the word and the illness hence the name Autastic. I feel that when children are the focus people are generally more willing to be more understanding and more empathetic.
Hymns From The Bedroom is perhaps your most celebrated work-again it sees you able to imbue your images with a real intimacy.
Hymns from the Bedroom is probably the closest to what I generally do-I like quirky London stuff and sub-cultures. I think the intimate nature of the images comes from the fact that I am quite good at talking and hanging with people and that is how I get a lot of my images really. I probably talk to people more than I photograph them so my shoots are really short and sweet. It helps to keep that candid aspect of my images.
That candid feel comes one would expect from the fact that you photograph people in their own environments.
I think so. I try and photograph people in their own environments because it aides that candid feel. It’s important in the work that I do-studios are a bit too clinical for me but don’t get me wrong, I really admire portrait photographers and their work. It’s funny because when I look at that work some of the people in the series have been photographed by me for 5 years or more now-I know lots of them now more as friends than anything else and for them it’s almost like a personal album really. In years to come when it has been like 10 years photographing them, I would like to release a book I think it would be so interesting.
Was that modus operandi of photographing people in their own homes always the way?
No in fact when I started my journey it was not something I purposefully set out to do. The first project I did was Brick Lane and I used to walk up and down the lane every Sunday for five hours. I then realised that I needed to be fearless and take images of people when there was no explicit invitation. Then I started meeting interesting people like this really intriguing guy called Tariq-the moment I saw him I wanted to photograph him. I introduced myself and he invited me to his studio and I ended up forming a relationship with him and hanging out with him. I took some great images and then he introduced me to his other friends and that is how Hymns From The Bedroom started.
What’s in the pipeline in terms of projects?
My new project focuses on kids in after parties. Initially the idea was to look at kids in clubs that whole studio 55 look but I realised that this look is everywhere. Then I got the idea of people in after parties like people were doing tattoo parties and I love that. I will be in people’s houses again but with that project I want to take the images in colour but it will still have a Poem stamp on it. I have started contacting people already like a lot of my friends live in warehouses so I think this could be exciting project to create and of course release.