POEM BAKER: “My camera is an open door”
For the last six years, Poem Baker has been allowed into the intimacy of strangers’ bedrooms. As a documentary photographer that finds inspiration in the work of Mary Ellen Mark and Francesca Woodsman, her camera opens doors to many places. In her Hymns from the Bedroom series, Baker enters the rooms of young struggling artists to capture both light and darkness in her own candid way.
All PHOTOS by Poem Baker
You’ve been doing the Hymns from the Bedroom series for some time now. When did you start?
When I first started photographing these kids, some of them had just come to London. You know what it’s like when you first leave home and you are out there by yourself, struggling. Some of them you don’t even realise it’s the same person because, obviously, when you’re that young you go through so many changes and you look different every other week. Different haircuts, different partners, different homes… It’s fascinating!
Would the idea of doing it mainly in the bedroom be to have a more private view into their lives?
The project happened organically. I was doing street photography and then one day I met this guy Carrick. I was walking down the street and I saw him and he just stopped me in my tracks. He was compelling looking and I thought ‘I’ve got a camera, I can get to know this person’. It was my early days in photography and I just thought I was going to talk to him and introduce myself. It’s amazing the number of things you can get away with just by having a camera. My camera is an open door to so many places. Several photographers have said it - and it is true! The camera permits you to have conversations with people that you wouldn’t normally have, to go places you wouldn’t normally go to. So, going back, I met this guy Carrick, walking down the street and I said ‘I’d love to photograph you because I am intrigued by you. Can I photograph you at yours or something?’ He said yeah, so I came around his house a couple of days later. He was an artist and I just sat down with him and made a brilliant photo. And then we just got talking and he said I should meet his friend Craig, who was a model. So, I went to meet Craig and hang out with him and did the same thing. It was crazy. I was meeting all their friends and hanging out with them in their homes and that’s how it happened! I liked the way I was being allowed into people’s homes and having honest conversations.
What makes an interesting bedroom?
An interesting person.
You’re seeing them grow and their spaces change. Have you become a motherly figure or a counsellor?
I always give them a photograph of the previous time when I see them and they look back on those photos all the time and go ‘Oh my God, my headspace then!’ or ‘I can’t believe I was dating so-and-so’. They’re all really committed to the project, they love being photographed and all of them are struggling artists. They’re DJs, drag queens, musicians, actors, and I think that, maybe because they are that kind of people, they are quite open to being photographed maybe more intimately than your banker (laughs).
How far down the road do you want to follow these kids?
Right to the bitter end - my bitter end or theirs. Because they are friends now, I’ll always photograph them. I have so many photos that are not on my website, so there’s a book there waiting to be made. I’ve got signed to an agency last year (Angela Woods Agency) and I now want to make money out of photography, which means I must become commercial. I think there is a market out there for my work. I really don’t care if people like it [Hymns from the Bedroom series] or not, I would just continue to photograph these kids because I find it fascinating. And I love hanging out with them because they’re very young and they’ve got boyfriend and girlfriend troubles and they want to be photographed with them. Yeah, there’s loads of gossip. You know, when you’re at that age, there’s always loads of gossip and they’re moving to a new house about every five minutes and they’ll call me up because they’re having house parties. It’s great. I love it!
That’s such a privilege, but are you trying to go down a more commercial path now?
Only because that’s the only way to make money out of photography. Documentaries are never going to bring money. Since meeting my agent, she has challenged me to do colour photography, which is something I’d never done before. It’s a totally different thing, you need to learn your colour palette and I really struggled with that for a few months. I never really was a fan of colour photography and now I’m a better colour photographer. I’ve been building up my portfolio to be more commercial during the last year, so now It’s ready for my agent just to go knock on doors. I love all these magazines: Dazed, Hunger… And yeah, they’ve opened me up to fashion. If you look at what Tim Walker does, fashion is not what I thought it was, like, ten years ago. You can be massively creative. So, I’m starting to do some fashion shoots. Also, I’ve just started a new project called Nocturnal, where I’m just going around after midnight photographing the streets of London. It’s funny how everyone’s so friendly at that time.