Jamie Baldridge, A Confluence of Arbitrary Ideas, 2007
Tasini – What first drew you to photography and what keeps you there?
Baldridge – I was first drawn to photography by the immediacy of the image and the alchemy of the process. I am very impulsive and obsessive and photography fits those drives perfectly. It is these very same qualities that still keep me interested, however, the medium is even more immediate and the alchemy is a brew of ones and zeroes.
Tasini – Where does your natural ability for photography come from?
Baldridge – Unfortunately, I have no natural ability for photography. What skill I do have has come from long work. What I do have is a natural ability to tell a story and photography becomes complicit in that act.
Tasini – Do you, or have you ever, looked to other photographers or artists for inspiration or education?
Baldridge – Yes! Absolutely! I love art more than anything else on Earth. So, I spend a great deal of time looking at the work of other artists and it is hard to not be inspired in some way by their work. In a way, I have been educated by every artist I have ever seen.
Tasini – In your brief biography, you write that after receiving your BFA in photography, you worked “a string of odd, very odd, photographic jobs.” Could you tell us about one of these odd jobs?
Baldridge – Yes, I was a boudoir photographer. I am a somewhat shy person and I was always in awe of how naturally and comfortably the people I photographed displayed the beauty and sensuality of their bodies.
Tasini – The exploration and reinterpretation of fairy tales are recurring themes in creative productions, especially in film and video. How do you feel your photographs stand apart from other works that embrace the thematic elements of the fairy tale?
Baldridge – It’s a good question, but one which chooses the wrong end of the stick when describing my work. Although others have described my work as re-interpretations of fairy tales, I suppose because of its surreal nature and my mention of a passing fondness for a book of fairy tales I found as a child, I take exception to the comparison due to its over-simplification and inaccuracy. I have stated that my work references “tales” in the broader sense of the word and in deference to all the stories that have been handed down through time; tales of religion, fables, parables, poems, novels, and ideas of philosophy. Fairy tales, especially our modern versions having been contaminated by Walt Disney et al, tend to be very one dimensional things and my influences and narratives are much broader, more complex and hopefully more nuanced. So, I think my work differs in that it is drawn from an altogether different well.
Tasini – What is your favorite tale to draw from? Or one that you keep going back to investigate?
Baldridge – The story that I return to again and again is the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. It is such an incredible piece of literature for both its teleological explorations and its poetic imagery.
Tasini – Amidst images that sometimes have darker sentiments, some of your work contains elements of humor. Is humor an important form of expression for you as an artist?
Baldridge – Absolutely! Life really is an absurd thing with no apparent purpose other than to ingratiate us to some imagined deity for an eternity of either paradise or punishment or to amass a catalogue of habits and neurosis before being interred into the earth. If I did not find some measure of humor in even the darkest corners of my mind I think I would go mad.
Jamie Baldridge, Toller #37, 2005
Tasini – They are also quite fantastical. How does the notion of the fantastic, as we know it in literature and other arts, function in your photographs?
Baldridge – When one strips away rules of logic and causality one is left with the fantastic, and the mind can function with the handbrake off, so to speak. It takes practice to do it with the lights on, but in sleep we imagine the fantastic instinctually and quite well. It almost seems as if this is the human brain’s ground state. Most of my images have originated in dreams or other altered states of consciousness and thus contain a much deeper truth, I believe, than more conscious or theory driven work. I am a true believer in the philosophy of surrealism.
Tasini – Do your photographs tell stories or make statements? Both at once?
Baldridge – One or the other, sometimes both at once! It often depends on the genesis of a particular image, but it would be dishonest to say that I always know the reasoning behind every work or that every image has some grand purpose or intent of edification. Years have gone by before I have truly understood the meanings of some of my works and others take on new meanings slowly over time. In the end, I would prefer to tell a story than make a statement although they are sometimes one and the same.
Tasini – Does your education in theology come into play in your work?
Baldridge – Very much so. I am fascinated by the intricate complications of religion, both as a space for humans to commune with the fantastic and as an obvious palliative against mortality. I would feel comfortable saying that all of my works are constructed, in part, on my interest in theology.
Tasini – Can you explain the technical aspects of your work? How do you construct/produce a photograph from start to finish?
Baldridge – I do not like to describe the entire magic trick, but a synopsis is fair enough. I first sketch the image to capture the absolute idea and then re-work it as little as I must to match my ideal aesthetic. I construct the mise-en-scene digitally with personal textures and images catalogued from my travels with my camera and utilizing various software. I then photograph my models in studio, being careful to exactly match all aspects of their photographs to those of the virtual world into which they will be composited. After some work and re-coloring, the final image is ready. From sketch to finished image the time is usually 3-5 months.
Tasini – If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?
Baldridge – If I weren’t a photographer, I think I would like to be involved in espionage or blacksmithing. Seriously.
Tasini – Do you have certain pictures that you’d call your “favorites,” or ones that are very meaningful to you?
Baldridge – Yes, I do have favorites and they do rotate over time. Currently, one of my favorite images is Quinine is Medicine. It was quite a challenge to create and I find it speaks very well to my own distaste for the establishment’s current campaign to pathologize completely normal thoughts, behaviors, and internal states in an attempt to homogenize, for profit, our collective view of normality.
Tasini – What do you hope people appreciate when they look at your pictures?
Baldridge – The opportunity to take a step back from reality for a moment to contemplate the wonder and horror of reality.
Jamie Baldridge, The Birth of Telepathy, 2007
Jamie Baldridge was born in 1975 and raised in a small-town Catholic environment in Louisiana. Baldridge explains that he decided to become an artist when he was a child, after finding an old fairytale book entitled, “101 Fairy Tales” in his grandmother’s attic sparking his ongoing fascination with fairytales and fables. He first studied Theology and Creative Writing, and then Photography at Louisiana State University where he received his BFA in 2001 and his MFA in 2005. Working with large-format, medium-format, and high-res digital cameras, Baldridge photographs individuals in surreal and fantastical compositions in order to reinterpret tales and fables. His pictures are visual puzzles that visualize metaphors and existential situations.
Baldridge is currently a professor of photography at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He has exhibited extensively throughout the United States, Spain, and the Netherlands. His work and writings can be found in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Rare Books Collection of the Library of Congress, Cornell University, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, The University of Notre Dame, as well as esteemed private collections. He lives and continues to practice in Lafayette, Louisiana.