Kelly Baker: Photographic Storyteller

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What do an anthropologist and a photographer have in common? A pure obsession with storytelling.

Little wonder that Kelly Baker was drawn to pursue both career paths. In fact, before entering the photography program, she had already completed a PhD in Anthropology:

“I went to school for a lot of years to become an anthropologist, so I became obsessed with storytelling and identity. I drew that interest into my photography practice, and then I became obsessed with how you could tell a story just with a face.”
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In anthropology, knowledge is collected through an interview process that aims to understand the culture of the subjects. This research method is the same that Kelly uses in her photography practice. In a recent and especially stunning project, This is Us, Kelly created portraits of individuals who were suffering from homelessness. She began each session with an interview. As viewers approach this series, they are drawn in by the intense relatability of the portraits, both the faces of the people and the written stories that accompany them. You can see the full collection here.

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“I love environmental portraiture, which is very much telling a story about a person by placing them in a particular context,” she said. “That’s really what I tried to do with the homelessness project, by using off-camera lighting to create a well-lit, professional-looking portrait but within people’s bedrooms, which is where they were living in the shelters.”

Kelly will continue to capture compelling portraits through her already-flourishing business, Kelly Baker Photography. She loves photographing couples, families, and commercial clients as much as she relishes her artistic practice:

“I think that storytelling is where my artistic and more commercial interests meet. I approach a personal photographic project in much the same way as I approach a family portrait – you know, learning about that family and telling the story of that family in still images. I let all my creative juices go wild with that as well.”
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She also hopes to teach anthropology in a university setting, in particular a very special variety – visual anthropology. In this field, images are used as data. In addition to interview responses, subjects supply photographs and video which have something to say about their culture.

The joining of photography with academia is not as uncommon as you might think. The Coordinating Instructor for Photography, Drew Gilbert, has a Masters in Archeology. Drew has used his photographic process to record archeological finds and to develop a better way of capturing geological samples. He has used his skills in research and re-creation to become an expert in constructing camera obscura and pinhole cameras. Adding a big dose of creativity to other fields so often results in a bubbling pot of exciting new ideas.
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“I would say that going to NBCCD was one of the best decisions I ever made,” said Kelly. “It opened up a million doors in terms of my career possibilities, in terms of my interests, my curiosity, and even just seeing myself as an artist. I loved that every day I came home from the College, I knew how to do something new with my hands.”

Doc Baker, as she is known by her classmates, is a delightful individual, eyes filled with curiosity and insight. In her family and commercial photography, she manages to capture candid emotion with zero added pretense. In her socially-charged collections, she cuts through the glare of superficial portraiture and finds a way to show the human behind the face.  Her work teaches us that we can find a way to relate to anyone, no matter their story. Let’s be thankful that she uses her superpowers for good.
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