Thanks to my previous interviews with documentary photographers Jim Mortram and Brant Slomovic, I “met” Darren Baldwin, a documentary photographer based in Brighton, United Kingdom. In addition to being a documentary photographer, he is a pediatric nurse and a design director for a few websites. Follow Darren on Twitter: @BWDdrj
1) So, tell us a little about how you got your start in documentary photography. Is it an off-shoot from being a street photographer? What draws you to this particular genre of photography?
My dad is a videographer by trade, but has always been an avid and passionate photographer; he was one of my earliest visual influences. Interestingly, I recently found out my estranged grandfather (whom I never met) was a popular street portraiture photographer – it would appear that the apple never falls far from the tree; even if you never sat beside it!
In my teens I’d go out with one of my friends and take pictures using my father’s camera; I dragged all his darkroom equipment down from the attic and we’d spend hours developing images in my little dark room in the garage, taking time to mess around with developing times and trying effects (often with rather less than successful outcomes!).
It wasn’t until I met my partner Carrie that my passion for photography really became apparent again. When we formed DIGITAL bungalow, Kitchen Bitching and live.love.space. photography became a way of life. We’re really passionate about strong imagery on the sites, and as Carrie is the wordsmith it naturally fell to me to provide suitably beautiful images to accompany her words.
Whilst I have dabbled with landscape, product, macro, band, sports etc, my interest in street portraiture came about by chance the day that I discovered Vivian Maier. Everything changed when I realised that landscapes, seascapes, traditional portraits and conventional concepts of beauty just didn’t excite me. I found more beauty in Maier’s work than in anything I’d seen before; and I wanted to see if I could capture the same unexpected human essence that Maier did. I also went back to books I’d previously read, Araki’s ‘Lucky Hole’, ‘Radical Eye’ by Miron Zownir, ‘Im Auftrag’ by Snowdon and ‘The Seven Ages of Man’ from Hulton Getty. These small developments steered me into a ‘documentary’ style of photography.
2) You are now the second in this series of interviews who has an affiliation with the health industry. Is there anything in particular that makes you better documentary photographer because of your medical training?
That’s true. Brant Slomovic being the first! I agree with Brant in that I see the two ‘as completely separate existences’. However, after 10 years in adult emergency and 3 in paediatric emergency, you get a feel for situations and how they’re going to develop which is a good skill for street photography. I deal with conflict, anxiety, anger, sadness and happiness when I am at work, so I definitely think that helps. However, that doesn’t make you take better photographs, and nor does the camera you’re using.
3) In addition to being a pediatric nurse (what is a & e?), you are the design director at DIGITAL Bungalow, Kitchen Bitching and Live Love Space. First, how the heck do you find the time to juggle all that and secondly, how do your design sensibilities inform your documentary approach?
A&E is the UK equivalent to your emergency rooms (Accident and Emergency).
My partner Carrie is a writer and workaholic, very driven and always moving forward. I like that, it kicks me up the backside and gets me moving too. So we started DIGITAL bungalow it quickly became something much bigger than we anticipated, then Carrie wanted to start another, and another, and another! As Design Director I oversee the sites, and deal with any design requirements the team might need. Carrie now runs DIGITAL bungalow Editorial Agency – so there’s plenty of design work to be done for her clients too. How do I fit it all in? Well … the revolution will not be televised.
I studied graphic design when I left school and get a lot of my creative sensibilities from my father which filter down into my photography, definitely. While I photograph a lot of people I also like, structure, form, architecture and symmetry. As a photographer I’m not one for setting up shots. I don’t overthink it – I just shoot and let the subjects do all the talking.
4) How and perhaps why were you so interested in photographing blind veterans? How did you get your start in that project?
Following my documentary series that captured the London Road area of Brighton and its inhabitants, I wanted to work on a new project that further challenged peoples’ perceptions of usual stereotypes.
The initial idea behind the Blind Veterans project was to challenge the the stereotype of a “hero”. I wanted to collect images that defy the clichéd young, muscular, bare-chested hero; instead allowing the viewer to recognise for themselves the once pivotal role of these now frail individuals. My subjects' lack of sight mirrors the way that society sometimes fails to “see” the elderly, or truly appreciate the influence their actions had
on the world of relative peace we are so lucky to live in today.
5) There is a certain aloofness in the subjects you photograph. If first impressions count, the one word that came to mind when I viewed your images is – “isolation” – am I right in assuming you are fascinated by how people are part of a community but still remain apart or isolated?
Absolutely. I do have a fascination with that aspect of our lives. We’re all so damn busy but there are people who can seem very alone. That’s not to say they’re unhappy – I believe there are many more facets to isolation than simple, abject misery. Contemplation, meditation, introversion … all these things can come from or lead to isolation. I’m interested in capturing both quiet moments – almost the pauses in between breaths – and diminutive moment when subjects see the lens. I love to wonder what it is they’re thinking – the multifaceted nature of the human psyche fascinates me – as it does many other people!
6) With very few exceptions, your recent work is all black and white. Why is that?
I just really like black and white. I love the deep contrasts. I like dark images. You don’t get tangled up in the colour.
Not everything works well in black and white, of course – and I love colour street work from people such as Matt Stuart, Justin Sainsbury, and Paul Russell. I am definitely influenced by Maier and Arbus’ work, but both my dad and grandfather worked in B&W, so who knows, maybe it’s in the genes.
7) Brighton, UK, where you live is a popular destination for tourists. Are your images mostly of them?
8) Your images now live on Flickr. How helpful has Flickr been to attract you clients interested and willing to support your documentary projects?
I use Flickr because I’d rather spend time taking photos than building a website to house them.
When it comes to working with new people, new projects and potential backers – I like good old-fashioned word of mouth. I want my images to do the talking. It’s great if someone stumbles across you – but the internet is an immense space – I’m not expecting a “stumbler” to commission me for a massive project any time soon. Flickr serves as a quick and easy gallery – a convenient way of people seeing what my work is about. Hopefully people will see my work, and want to talk about it – and we’ll take it from there.
9) Other than Twitter, where you are quite active, and Flickr, where your images are hosted, do you use any other social media channel to market your work? Tell us about it.
Apart from Twitter and Flickr I have a facebook page. That’s it. No tumblr, no 500px, no Google+ nothing else. I don’t see the point in constantly repeating myself!
10) You mentioned that a new website is in the works. Care to tell us what the domain url will be and when we can expect to see it go live?
At the moment I’m so busy with projects that a website will just have to wait – it would be fantastic to have a proper online showcase but, as I said, for me it’s personal relationships that build really positive projects.
Do you know of other documentary photographers I should interview? Why not put them in touch with me? Simply direct them to this website! Thank you.