Visual Vernacular: Photographer Casey Baden
One of the earliest memories of photographer Casey Baden is from her birthday party when she was 3 years old. Her aunt attended the festivities with her film camera and Baden was immediately smitten. Growing up in a house that her mother co-designed, Baden was often at creative play with chalk, finger paints, and imaginative games. Photography classes shortly followed adolescence and high school became the dedication to her talent. Time at a specialized study program at New York University helped flesh out Casey’s ideas and concepts that now reverberate in her beautifully haunting Cyanotype prints. The vivid blue that these prints create is such a universal color of highest admiration, feminine work, and meaningful landscapes of memory.
Her skillful captures of surroundings and individuals are ones of immediate emotion and storytelling. One of her noted series of late is entitled Suspended In Home, a nod to the Home Stills series of artist Bastienne Schmidt. This body of work was shot in her mother’s home with meditative captures in rooms all in a house that was possibly going to be on the market for sale. The first phase of the project includes images of calmness, stillness, or repose as a clothed figure becomes the focus in various rooms of the house.
The second part of the series includes images of a constructed shrine with items from around the house including vases, a wreath of horns, flowers, and other decorative items all illuminated from the natural light that bellows from the dome shaped ceiling and bounces from the reflection of several mirrors. With the raised figure in the center of the composition, there is a reference to the idolized form of the body of Roman and Greek sculpture. In the next stage, Baden plans to photograph her mother in some of the same compositions that she initially took of herself. Casey took the time to answer some additional questions about her studies, her concepts, and her hopes for her future in Houston.
Cyanotype print from Casey Baden’s series, “Suspended In Home.”
FPH: How did you choose to work in photography?
Baden: After my early encounter with my aunt’s camera, I started taking photography classes as early as I could. The high school I went to had an incredible arts program and I was really invested in it. My teachers Diane Marks and David Veselka were really supportive and they allowed me a lot of extra time in the studios. Then, in 2009, I did a pre-college program at Rhode Island School of Design, which was basically a 6-week intensive introduction program to RISD’s freshman curriculum. Each student had to choose a major which they attended two days a week in addition to taking basic courses in drawing, design, and art history. I really hit a groove that summer and met a ton of amazing people and really started to consider the arts as a serious future, which I hadn’t considered before.
After the program, when it came time to apply for colleges, I applied to 10 traditional universities and five art schools. The decision came down to RISD and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU. Gallatin’s program is an interdisciplinary, individualized study program in which students create their own major alongside an advisor. I decided to put art at the center of my focus, but to approach it from all different angles. I completed a studio art minor, pursing the actual hands-on art making side, but also took artist history classes, arts management and more business focused classes, some studies on creativity and psychology with an amazing professor, Yevgeniya Trapps, who also ended up being my advisor, as well as a lot of art-centric writing courses. I also took French with the thought being that art is an international endeavor, which led me to study abroad for 1 month in Florence and a full semester in Paris.
NYU was a really interesting place to go to college. There are so many people there both at the school and in the city. My program and the school itself were not your typical college experience. Like everyone says, there’s a lot of ambition, distraction, competition, and hustle in the city and it was both motivating and discouraging at different points in time. In a single semester, I often had regular classes, an internship, and a job all at once, not to mention I was finding time to make art.
In the studio art curriculum, I was required to take classes other than just photography; several painting courses, an intro to sculpture class, various printmaking and bookmaking courses, but photography was almost always part of my work. It seems to be the way that my mind works and is best able to express itself.
The most influential photography course I took at NYU was with Nichole Frocheur in the Tisch School of the Arts. She taught Alternative Processes in Photography, and exposed me to the cyanotype process that I use most in my current work, as well as palladium printing, photograms, albumen printing, collodion plates, pinhole images and more.
Cyanotype print from Casey Baden’s series, “Suspended In Home.”
FPH: The type of photography you use is very specific and very vibrant in color. Tell me about the materials you use and the process.
Baden: The process I use is called Cyanotype printing. The chemicals used are ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide, which when combined in equal parts, produce a cyan-blue print. The process was first used for reproducing notes and diagrams, then for accurately capturing plant-life and is also the same chemical that was used by engineers to make blueprints. The chemicals are only mildly photo-sensitive, and therefore only activated by the presence of UV light. After mixing the chemicals, they are applied to any porous surface. Once dry, I used enlargements of my original negatives, printed on transparency paper to make contact prints in direct view of the sun. The chemicals are then “fixed” or washed out with water, to set the image.
I most often use medium format cameras — Mamiya 7 II and Mamiya C 330 — to capture my images. I use all kinds of papers to see they way they expose differently and how the texture of the fibers can change the work. There’s a lot of experimentation that spurs from trying new surfaces. The way the chemicals are painted on and the way the paper receives the chemicals allow the viewer to see the hand of the artist and offer a lot of different results. It also gives the photograph a more painterly feel.
FPH: Tell me about your studio space and the concept behind it.
Baden: My studio space is at The Common House, one part of the umbrella of Bea Ying Projects, founded in March of 2015. Founder, Arie Thrasher, opened her home to make space available for early career visual artists with the intention to foster inspiration, community, and productivity. There are a total of 4 studios, and each artist makes a commitment to contribute to the space for a period of at least 6 months, with an open studio event every three months. Arie is really supportive of the artists she selects and intends to help each individual artist achieve both short and long term goals, from accessing supplies, bringing new exposure, presenting curated shows around Houston, and more. The Common House is just one part of Bea Ying projects. The larger entity involves curation of pop up exhibitions, collaborations, and events in venues all around Houston.
FPH: The imagery is poetic in nature: eerie yet ethereal, haunting yet homey, specific yet abstract. What is your concept behind the photographs?
Baden: I think the themes I’m working with are identity, femininity, domesticity, and ritual. In college, my thesis focused on “Representation and Identity through the Female Lens.” I focused on three artists, Francesca Woodman, Tracey Emin, and Sophie Calle, all of whom have been influential to my work. There’s a quote from John Berger in Ways of Seeing that says, “there is nothing [the woman] can do which does not contribute to her presence”. He is discussing the concept that a woman is continually accompanied by her own image of herself, which somehow transposes her into a object — a sight to be seen by others and externally by her own self. Somehow this concept has been sort of a springboard for me and may explain why I use myself and those close to me as the models in my work. I also like to use sequence to imply narrative or storytelling. I hope to capture some kind of emotional and intellectual intimacy in my work. The world of the image is carefully crafted, created, and manipulated but intends to reveal some kind of character investigation.