Deedra Baker is a photographer and book artist currently residing in Denton, TX. Her creative work is based on source material that includes the research of historical and contemporary photographic processes, bookmaking, papermaking, and literature and explores themes of gender, self-identity, and sexuality via self-portraiture. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2011, from Washburn University in Topeka, KS and will receive her Master of Fine Arts with a photography concentration and intermedia secondary concentration at Texas Woman's University in May 2016. Deedra is the recipient of the Charles and Margaret Pollak Award and Sibberson Award from Washburn University and the Chancellor’s Student Research Scholar Award from Texas Woman’s University. Selections from her body of work have been featured nationally in exhibitions and publications including, Chowan University National Juried Exhibition, Light Leaked, PhotoSpiva National Photographic Competition and Exhibition, and Voyeur: Repositioning the Gaze.
Artist-on-Artist Interview conducted by Christine Zuercher. Check out Deedra's interview with Christine here: http://www.lightleaked.com/2016/04/artist-on-artist-christine-zuercher.html
Artist Statement: Ties That Bind
Ties That Bind explores the nexus of my family through three generations of females. Through portraits, environmental still lifes, and landscapes, this series examines the interconnectedness between my mother, three sisters, two nieces, and myself. As an extension of the traditional family archive of snap shots, the work consists of color photographs, video, and a one-of-a-kind artist’s book to explore the relationships between the women of my family through our traditions, rituals, and the connection to a homeplace – the central or family home.
For the females within my immediate family and myself, the experiential and historical bond centered around the idea of a homeplace greatly influences and informs our identities. In her curatorial statement Not My Family Values, for an Art Photo Index Exhibition, Dr. Rebecca Senf states, “Family is at the heart of how we identify ourselves.” To create this work, I examined ways that my female family members’ identities interweave and manifest as a result of experiences together at our family home on 66 acres of land in rural Kansas. Intimate portraits capture the emotional, experiential, and physical bond found between we women, while environmental still life and landscape images made within my family’s house and land reflect the visceral connection between the females and the land, home, and familial keepsakes and objects.
Christine Zuercher: Your photographs often focus on very personal, quiet moments with your family. What experiences inspired you to make Ties That Bind?
Deedra Baker: Over the last couple of years I found my interests shift in regard to my work. I moved to Texas from Kansas, away from my family, and started a new journey in graduate school. I went from making self-portraits to appropriating family snap shots to photographing my preteen niece as a stand-in for myself. It was then that I realized my interest in photographing the females in my family. I have always been interested in the female form and the symbols that we carry through our keepsakes and personal treasures that we pass down through generations. My maternal grandmother passed away in March of 2013, just before I started graduate school, so I have been thinking a lot about the role of women in my family and the influences women have on the collective home. My separation from family also made me that much more in tune with our relationships and dynamics as I made trips back to visit. My father plays an important role in the family and has provided unconditional love and support to us, but it is truly we women that bind the family together.
CZ: This series shows a progression of seasons and people over time. What role does the passage of time play in your work?
DB: I have truly enjoyed making this work over the last two seasons. That is one thing I love about the Kansas landscape – there are four distinctive seasons. The passage of time is very symbolic for this work because it references the three generations of females present in the family. As I continue to create this work, the passage of time will only become more important as the photographs start to show the aging of the women, especially my nieces who are only fourteen and three years of age.
CZ: What are your thoughts on including your family, the land and animals in your exploration of place?
DB: Landscapes of the homeplace establish a connection between the women and the land that is the center for our relationship. In The Lure of the Local, art critic and writer Lucy Lippard, states, “The search for homeplace is the mythical search for the axis mundi, for a center, for some place to stand, for something to hang on to.” Ties That Bind documents the central or family home and its significance in the physical, emotional, experiential, and historical bond between three generations of women. The animals are very much a part of our experience with the land, as well.
CZ: What do you hope your audience will understand about your work and/or your family with Ties That Bind?
DB: While this work is autobiographical and tells my family story, is also a universal exploration of familial connections and influences. Ties That Bind invites viewers to examine their own hereditary relationships and the influence these connections have on their own identities. Photographer Edward Steichen said, “The people in the audience looked at the pictures, and the people in the pictures looked back at them. They recognized each other. A Japanese poet has said that, when you look into a mirror, you do not see your reflection, your reflection, sees you.” The imagery from Daughters will act similarly, as a reflection to prompt memories for the viewers.
CZ: What role does the female play in your understanding of the traditional family and what female artists have inspired you to make this work?
DB: I think more than anything the female plays a significant role in the understanding of my own family. I know on a broader sense that everyone has experienced this notion of family in different ways, in which there cannot really be a tradition stated for the structure of family. A loving mother and father brought me up with three sisters on a ranch of 66 acres (or more at times). My father worked hard 365 days a year to provide financially for his family, but never missed a single one of our ball games, plays, or concerts. Yet, when I was thinking about my family and the work I wanted to create, I was most interested in the difference in dynamics between each sister and my mother – about the difference in relationships we sisters have with each other, and how now there are two third generation girls (my nieces).
Several historic and contemporary female photographers have influenced Ties That Bind, including: Julia Margaret Cameron, Gertrude Käsebier, Sarah Christianson, and Blake Fitch. Julia Margaret Cameron was inspired to photograph her family and friends in her studio; these subjects were a part of her daily life and therefore readily available to pose for Cameron. She was especially interested in photographing her niece, Julia Prinsep Jackson (Schirmer). Cameron’s portraits of women are intimate in their close compositions, soft focus, and dramatic lighting. Gertrude Käsebier’s subject matter was often her own family, children, and friends. Her interest in creating portraits of people stems from her longing “…to make likenesses that are biographies, to bring out in each photograph the essential personality that is variously called temperament, soul, humanity.” Through Sarah Christianson’s Midwestern upbringing, she developed a curiosity concerning the landscape of the Great Plains and is greatly affected by the sense of place found there. In her body of work, Homeplace, she documented her family’s 1200-acre farm in the Red River Valley of North Dakota (Christianson). Christianson photographed the farmland and family home, and combined her images with family archive documents and portraits. Blake Fitch’s photography has focused on themes of identity, rites of passage, civil rights, and belonging. In her body of work, Expectations of Adolescence, Fitch photographs her sister Katie and cousin Julia over a decade as they mature from adolescence to young adulthood.
CZ: How did you go about making your technical choices? Is there a connection between your use of visual aesthetics such as natural light, color, and the ideas you hope to share in this series?
DB: In making this work I knew I was going to be shooting digitally with a full-frame camera, so that I could have high-quality imagery. I also knew I wanted to use a shallow depth of field as often as possible to romanticize the figures, objects, or land. It is important to me to create this work in color because it reveals the specificity of my family, homeplace, and keepsakes. In general I am attracted to the aesthetic of beautiful natural lighting in photographs, so I was drawn to use a similar aesthetic in this project. Although, I must admit to using a fill flash a majority of the time for the indoor photographs to maintain a fast shutter speed and low ISO setting.
CZ: Your past work is primarily self-portraiture- what led to your change in focus? Do you consider this work self-portraiture?
DB: I have always found myself gravitating toward autobiographical content in my work. In the past, my work expressed my psychological and physical self through a literal portrayal via self-portraiture. Over the last two years, I became interested in turning the camera around and photographing my female family members to tell our collective story. I still think that Ties That Bind is extremely autobiographical, but tells a much broader story of my mother, sisters, nieces and self through our bonds around the homeplace.
CZ: What is next for you after you graduate? Congratulations Deedra!
DB: Thank you, Christine! This is definitely an exciting time for me, which I am sure you can relate to that! I feel like I have so many opportunities and possibilities ahead of me. In the fall, I will be teaching three photography courses at Texas Woman’s University as an adjunct instructor. I am also now a gallery coordinator for Art Room Gallery, which is based in Fort Worth, TX. I am looking forward to teaching, working with fellow artists, and promoting Ties That Bind!
Deedra's thesis exhibition is currently on view at Texas Woman's University: