I began my life as a photographer shooting the streets. I took some of my first B&W photos of people in the crowd during an anti-war demonstration at the University of Texas in 1969 and I became convinced I was a rare talent with a keen eye for the decisive moment. Photography has the ability to convince people they are great photographers, which is why so many beginners are so passionate about it, and I was one of those suckers. I dropped out of UT and moved to NY to become a street photographer and spent two or three years shooting the streets. Ironically, I was unaware of the great tradition of New York street photography that preceded me – I was unaware of the old Photo League or the depth of Walker Evan’s New York work. I didn’t know about Gary Winogrand or Lee Friedlander, and – get this – I had never heard of Robert Frank. The first time I saw Frank’s “The Americans” in 1974 I was devastated, I was crushed. I was convinced that I was a duffer and I quit photography.
While I was trying to figure out what else I could do I got a job in a B&W processing lab where I learned to print well and fast, and I became a printmaker. The lab was near Gramercy Park, near numerous hack 23rd St. studios that were churning out porn. For about a year I spent eight hours a day in a dank basement darkroom printing photographs of people either having or pretending to have sex and I became fascinated by the abstract quality of photography. I came to realize that photographs with identifiable subject matter didn’t necessarily contain any meaning and that photos that didn’t necessarily have any readily identifiable subject might be packed with content. During the same period I was living in a commune in Brooklyn and the only TV we had was one of those old and bulbous oval jobs from the 50s with a very faint and fuzzy tube. In the evenings I shot photos of the grainy shadows that passed across the screen, photos that conveyed virtually no information yet still portrayed recognizable images of people or things, and I looked for subjects that represented ideas larger than themselves. I could take a photograph of a vague and blurry black-and-white shape that not only delineated, say, Superman, but that also represented truth, justice and the American way.
Ever since, I’ve found it intriguing to invent ways of making pictures of enigmatic content that still convey meaning. I discovered that one of the ways I could reference subject while offering minimal information was to create a unique context for a photograph by making a series of similar photographs. The consistency of process injected meaning into each of my separate series, and also into all of the series together. My work is less about its subject matter and more about the excitement of seeing and thinking and understanding an image, and I want the viewer to have to make his own sense of the image also because I don't see why I should have to do all the work.
While producing and exhibiting my earliest series, I freelanced for magazines, public relations and advertising companies, taught, edited and curated shows in New York until 1982 when for reasons unknown to anyone, I moved back to my home town of El Paso, Texas. I continued pursuing personal projects until 1991 when I become so engaged in arts advocacy in the community that I forsook my own work. For both private and not-for-profit galleries I organized and curated dozens of exhibits and performances, wrote grants, served on boards and committees, and contributed reviews, political commentary, photo essays, profiles of cultural figures and short stories to local and regional publications. In 2006 I became determined to get back to photography so I quit El Paso and moved to Albuquerque where I began organizing my negatives and vintage prints, and I scanned a selection of them into the computer. I also embarked on regular forays to Manhattan with a digital camera and initiated my first new set of photographs in 17 years (Phoning It In). In March of 2008 I moved further up the road to Santa Fe where I produced Real Fire in November and December of that year and, since the Fall of 2009, I've been working on Still Life, New Mexico, a project in progress. I'm currently producing rag archival pigment prints of both my newer and earlier work, and I am collaborating on a book with the poet Janet Hamill of her poems and my fire images, called Real Fire.
A long time ago I received a CAPS grant from the New York State Council on the Arts and my work is represented in The Sam Wagstaff Collection at The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Houston Museum of Fine Art, The New York Public Library, The Museum of the City of New York, The Joseph P. Seagram, Robert J. Olden and other private collections. I've had solo exhibitions at Foto on Broome, Fashion Moda and The Mid-Town Y Gallery in NYC; DiverseWorks in Houston; Museo de Arte y Historia in Juárez, Mexico; The Bridge Center for Contemporary Art in El Paso, at private galleries in San Francisco, Dallas and Amherst, MA. I've been in group shows throughout the US, Europe and Latin America, and my work hasbeen reviewed in the NY Times by Andy Grundberg, the San Francisco Bay Guardian by Karla Mallette, Dee Mitchell, a Dallas-based art critic and Al Harris-Fernandez, director of the Sioux City Art Center.
Contact Richard Baron
Select One-Person Exhibits: Select Collections:
Foto on Broome (2); NYC; 1976; 1980. The Sam Wagstaff Collection at The J. Paul Getty Museum
The Pratt Gallery; Amherst, MA; 1979. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Fashion Moda; The Bronx, NYC: 1981. Houston Museum of Fine Art
The Mid-Town Y Photography Gallery; NYC; 1982. New York Public Library
Museo del Arte y Historia; Juárez, Mexico, 1985. Museum of the City of New York
Bridge Center of Contemporary Art; El Paso, TX; 1989. The El Paso Museum of Art
Diverse Works; Houston, TX; 1990. The Robert J. Olden Collection
Mincher Wilcox Gallery; San Francisco; 1991. The Seagram Collection
Gallery Untitled; Dallas, TX; 1998. Numerous Private Collections
Publications: Select Group Shows:
American Photographer Chess City, New York City 1975.
Camera 35 SoHo Photo Gallery; New York City; Various Shows; 1976-78.
Esquire 50 NYC Photographers; Org of Independent Artists at Federal Plaza; NYC, 1979.
Fotografia Italiana 25 American Photographers; American Consulate; Rio de Janero; 1979.
Modern photography EXIT Art; Islip Museum; 1981.
Newsweek Nikon House, Traveled Upstate; NY State Council on the Arts CAPS Exhibit; 1980-81.
Popular Photography Jayne H. Baum Gallery; New York City; 1982.
Saturday review Longview Art Museum; Longview, TX; 1983
SoHo Weekly News Gallerie Rayenare; Juárez , Mexico, 1984.
The (Santa Fe Magazine for the Arts) Juntos; El Paso, TX; 1986.
The New York Times Sunday Magazine Khiva & Mincher Wilcox Gallery; San Francisco; Various Shows, 1988-92.
The Washington Post Sunday Magazine Blue Star; San Antonio, TX; 1989.
The Village Voice The El Paso Museum of Art; El Paso, TX; 1991.
Travel & Leisure Adair Margo Gallery; El Paso, TX; 1992.
The Bay Guardian The Santa Fe Civic Center; Santa Fe, NM; 2011
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