Photographer Ben Baker is on a mission to capture female beauty from ages 1 to 100
Ten years ago, portrait photographer Ben Baker was working on an assignment with Marie Claire magazine called ‘American Beauty.’ Partnering with the magazine, he set up a portable photo booth in Washington Square Park hoping to photograph and capture the essence of American women.
The beauty editor from Marie Claire would interview the women, asking various questions about their lives. When Baker was working on this assignment, he had the women on a white background, hoping to get rid of any distractions. He found it important to focus on the woman being interviewed, and what she was saying.
Marie Claire wanted to continue this idea, eventually traveling all over the country to get varying perspectives of women around the entire United States. They took away the white background, making the portraits more environmental. Baker was still drawn to using the photo booth concept, and found it difficult to balance this project with his other assignments.
“So much of what my other work is about is photographing a person within their environment, so it becomes focused on what they do. I like this project so much because it’s not about that,” Baker said. “Even the way the lighting is designed, it strips all of that away and just focuses on the person.”
He has since continued this idea on his own, growing it into an impressive personal multi media project. Although the name has remained the same, Baker has made the focus about the different perspectives women have on aging. He is in the process of photographing and interviewing 100 women, from a newborn baby to a 100 year old woman. With the youngest girls, he interviews their mothers as well, since they are too young to answer questions.
He has built a larger, stationary booth inside of his studio on West 26th Street in Manhattan. Since it is not portable, the project has evolved into featuring New York women. The lighting must be consistent, so the structure does not move, allowing him to focus on the content of each interview.
Working with his producer Sid Goyal, they have been finding women through various blogs and women’s networks. It is important to Baker that he isn’t just interviewing his friends. He has used similar ideas with other publications, and even on some advertising assignments but thought they failed to accurately represent American women. He is working very hard to find a diverse range of women, coming from all different backgrounds.
Together with Goyal, they are compiling a video that will travel through each age, highlighting each woman’s point of view. Eventually, Baker hopes to create an online experience where viewers can look at the portraits, and watch each interview in its entirety, Allowing people to choose which age they find most interesting, or which answers they can relate to the most.
“The challenge with this project is that it’s 100 women, and we are planning on making it around a 10 minute piece with a goal to make it a bigger piece later on,” he said. “Each woman has given us such thoughtful, long, beautiful answers so it’s been difficult to choose what to use.”
In addition to his assignment with Marie Claire, Baker has also been inspired by his mother. Originally from Australia, he does not get to see her as often as he would like. In another personal project he would take a portrait of his mother every time he went home to visit. The result is a beautiful collection of tightly cropped portraits, showing various points in her life, and her natural aging. The still portraits in ‘American Beauty’ are cropped in a similar fashion, focusing on the women’s faces.
Last week he interviewed 74-year-old Anita Mandl, an Upper East Side resident. She had heard about the project through some friends who had also gotten involved. The women are not given the questions ahead of time, in hopes to get the most genuine answers.
“Ben was delightful, he never made me feel pressured when interviewing me,” Mandl said. “I thought his questions were so interesting, they made me really reflect and think about who I am, and how I got to become the woman I am today.”
The team is still looking for women of various ages, so if you would like to be considered for this project, or would like to suggest someone, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All participants will receive an 11×14 print of their portrait.
You can see more of Baker’s work on his website at www.benbakerphoto.com.
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