Featured Photographer: Megan Baker

JANUARY/FEBRUARY FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER

For 2010 I will have a new “Featured Photographer” interview bi-monthly where I will interview talented photographers and display their work on this website. I am kicking it all off with 18 year old Megan Baker who happens to shoot with a Leica M8!

Megan Baker is an 18 year old photographer living in Chicago, IL. I first found out about her photography through facebook and soon realized that she not only shoots with a Leica M8, but she has shot in some of the same locations as me during her outings and road trips to find abandoned buildings. Amazing! After seeing her images I was floored by the haunting beauty of them and realized that I better get an interview with her now before she is crazy famous 🙂 She not only searches out and shoots old abandoned buildings in rural towns but she also photographs musicians. Her work is beautiful, soulful, and is full of emotion. True Art.

THE INTERVIEW

Hi Megan! I am thrilled to have you as the first featured photographer on my website. I have to say that when I saw your images I was hooked instantly. After you contacted me on facebook we realized that you have shot in some of the same places that I have and you shoot with a Leica M8! How old were you when you really got into photography, and what were your usual subjects?

I am glad to be your first featured photographer! I was around 3 or 4. My usual subjects were probably my toys, then I moved onto my pets. I usually dressed them in human clothing (against their will.)

What attracted you to the Leica M8? How long have you had it? Which lenses do you use and do you enjoy shooting a rangefinder camera?

I was getting tired of all the new DSLRs coming out that were all “This is so easy!” “It’ll do everything for you!” Where is the fun in that? They’re marketed to soccer moms. They’re made out of plastic… I was tired of it, I didn’t want to shoot with something like that. So I did some research on Leica, and I’m a big fan of history and preservation. Leica is timeless. The M8 is beautiful. It’s really hard to describe, but when I shoot with it, I’m not just holding a plastic thing that will be obsolete in a few years, snapping photos for me. I have a real camera, it just feels different. The other day I was riding around looking for shots with my mom, and she asked me why I couldn’t have an SLR (since it would be easier to zoom and everything like that) and I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was basically that when I shot with my old Nikon, a picture was a picture. Just a picture. With Leica, it’s different. There is soul… I can feel the grass blowing across the Midwestern field. It’s alive in my photos. There’s a whole other dynamic that the M8 has, that maybe not everyone can tell when they aren’t looking close enough… I think a good example of this is my ‘Stoutenborough’ photo.


I’ve had my M8 for a little over 2 years now. I was just thinking about that the other day, time goes by fast. I only have a summicron 50 mm now but I’m getting the summicron 35 mm soon. I’ve shot with the 28 mm f/2 a bit too.

I love shooting with a rangefinder camera. I’m more aware of my surroundings, more focused, and really paying attention to what I’m doing.

Yes, that Stoutenborough photo has that M8 magic but it also shows the skill of the photographer! Also, I am in love with the 50 Summicron right now. Great choice in lens! I love that you shoot these old abandoned buildings and rural scenes. What got you started doing that? I thought I was the only nut traveling to these tiny towns looking for these oddball locations!

Well, when I was about 14, I got kicked out of school. Some people told me that telling the story would probably alienate a Christian audience of whatever but what the hell? I’m an artist. I can say whatever I want, hah. I was in a small conservative Christian school and I didn’t agree with the things they were teaching. It was the kind of teaching that wasn’t about love or caring for people, it was, that person is this, so they’re pretty much less than human. I wasn’t afraid to say it wasn’t right. So they got rid of me.

I was a straight A student, almost always on honor roll, and I’d been going there for 7 years, since the year it opened. These people were like my family. It broke me up inside… I didn’t really have anyone else in my life. So in a way, I felt abandoned. I came across these buildings and something clicked. It was therapeutic in a way.

I have had some scary experiences while shooting locations out in these small towns. Do you have any fun stories to share?

Haha… I’m going to tell the one that just happened to me last weekend, or technically the weekend before last. I was in a town called Elisabethtown on the Ohio River. It was so strange, a total time warp, and even thought it was in Illinois, everyone there had the thickest southern accents I’ve ever heard. We stayed at the oldest hotel in Illinois and were the only ones there (not even the people who worked there were there) amazing weather… amazing spot. I recommend it. I’ve never heard so many birds or seen so many stars… anyway, we went to this diner for lunch and this conversation went down…

Waitress: Is that your camera? (referring to the M8)

Me: Yes…

Waitress: How old are you?

Me: I’m 18.

Waitress: Oh I thought you were like 12 or 13.

My mom would have never bought me a camera like that when I was your age.

My mom: She bought it herself.

Waitress: When I was 18 I had better things to do.

Then she walked off.

The next day the owner of the hotel made us breakfast and told us that some people there are very unwelcome to other people who aren’t from there.

I love the look of your photos. I assume you use photoshop to achieve your desired effects. How long does it take you to work on one photo, and how did you learn photoshop so well?

It is photoshop, and the time depends. Some are really easy. This one I’m working on now, it only took about an hour or two, but there’s still some tweaking. There’s some that take almost 10 hours. I used to work nonstop usually through the night and go to bed at 6 am, but now I normally take breathers and wait and see how it looks to me in a few weeks, so the time really varies. I actually don’t think I’ve learned photoshop well. I know how to do certain things, which was all just trial and error, I prefer to learn that way.

Your photo of the empty building in Kentucky is one of my favorites and your processing is amazing with this image. How did you spot this building and what made you realize it would make a good photo?

Thanks! It is one of my favorites as well. I was on a road trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and had just left this crappy motel in the middle of no where, it was still pretty early, about 7 am I think… Not actually at night. We were driving through this old little town and we’d actually driven past it before at night, but we were totally lost and freaking out and had just done a giant circle for about an hour in the total boonies in Kentucky. We bunked down at the only motel for about 3 hours and the next day went through the town again. I spotted the building and what really caught me was inside. Beautiful vines and colors, and it was a very floggy day, so that stuff really stood out to me. Although the area around it wasn’t too great (I am normally pulled into scenes where the whole photo intrigues you, not just the subject.) The building was too cool to pass up.

Many purists argue that photoshop is the devil and should never be used. What would you say to that?

I don’t get that at all. It is essentially no different than the darkroom. I think people have the wrong idea of photoshop. Oh it’s all filters and pressing buttons and it does everything for you. That’s not the case, at least not with me. I hand tweak all my shots similar to what one would do in a darkroom. A lot of people ask me, “so are these photoshopped?” like it’s a bad thing. Yeah, they definitely are photoshopped, and I’m unapologetic.

Your photos of the musicians are really full of emotion and feeling. How did you get started with it?

I was a big fan of Gavin DeGraw back when I was 12, and I went to a lot of shows and took pictures. Then I did the same with people they played with, and through the years I got to meet a lot of great people to photograph. I’m very lucky now to have found a band that I can tour with and that are supportive of my work, and I am a big fan of their music, so it’s all around awesome to work with them. I feel like the people I photograph want me around, and are comfortable having me around. They can be themselves and I photograph that. The shots are honest.

What is your favorite photo that you have ever taken, and why?

That is a really tough one… I don’t think I could answer that. I have a few favorites. Mainly, the first ones I’d taken in each series. They started something important for me. Also the ones where the buildings have now been destroyed.

Have you ever presented your images in a gallery? If so, are you interested in doing more of it?

I actually just took down a show in the West Loop today (well, yesterday, as it’s 2:30 in the morning.) I am definitely interested in doing more of it. I’d love to get in some more Chicago showings… some other cities… I’d like to expand into Canada and then even further, maybe Germany.

I think you are crazy talented for being 18 years old. Is photography something you plan in pursuing as a career? If so, what type of photography most interests you?

Thank you. I definitely already consider it a career, although a modest one compared to some others. I don’t know if one certain type interests me the most. I alternate between music and fine art. Some days I’m like, “man I love this. I love taking pictures of these bands. I feel like I should really concentrate on this.” And somedays I feel the opposite… loving doing fine art, no pressure, working for myself. I love them both.

What is the coolest thing that has happened with your photography so far?

Going on tour I think. May of 2009 was a crazy, crazy time for me. I was 17… moving from a small town to the big city, having never been away from my home for more than a week. I moved here alone, barely knowing anyone. And about a week later, I grabbed a cab to O’Hare and flew out to Pittsburgh to meet with the band (Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers) to tour and shoot shots for their then upcoming record. I’d never even flown by myself, and barely flew at all since I’d been deathly afraid of it. It kind of amazes me, that I managed to do all that. It’s definitely an adventure. I’m enjoying it a lot. I can’t wait for what’s to come.

Thank you Megan for sharing your awesome photos and taking the time to answer these questions! I wish you all the success in the world!

Thank you! Honestly, I don’t know if anyone would do anything without people showing interest and support in what they do, so thank you, it means a lot.

You can see more of Megan’s work at her website! Just click on over to www.mbakerphotography.com to check it out!


30 Comments

  1. Steve – nice feature and interview. I think it is inspiring to see Megan’s work now and how hard she is driving forward with it. I don’t care for the photshopped images, but that is just me. The band photos remind me of some of Harry Benson’s work with The Beatles. You’ve got access and the trust of the band that really allows you to capture not just the on stage shots (though you are handling those quite well), but to get the relaxed times we all have, but that shine a bit brighter when a star is in them. Run with this.

    I think you are heading towards a time when you will want to get a film Leica and shoot some black and white film of the bands. I hope that happens.

    Dan

  2. Dear Megan,
    After reading everything here I decided to say a few things.

    1. I apologize in advance for being my usual self, blunt, straight forward and honest.

    2. Awesome work! Keep rockin’!

    3. Don’t let those so-called “Purists” get to you. Franky, most of them have either no talent whatsoever and therefore believe they have the right to tell everyone how a “good” picture is supposed to look like (particular one taken with a Leica) or they read a couple books and are completely stuck up on rules and stuff that everyone who dares to differ has obviously “a lot to learn”.

    4. Know the rules. And then break them. The most important thing you can do is to experiment. That will teach you more about photography than anything else. Remember, it’s a journey and you want to get the most out of it.

    5. About the never ending photoshop vs. darkroom/film debate … I worked for more years in advertising agencies as art director than I’d like to admit. I worked with more amazing, some of them well known photographers on an international basis than most here will ever meet in their entire life. Trust me, in commercial photography there has always been more “tweaking” going on than most people think. Until the arrival of digital entire industries existed that did nothing else but enhance a photographer’s work.
    Just because some people don’t know about it doesn’t mean it wasn’t possible. The only difference is that with the arrival of photoshop things got a lot easier and faster to do.

    6. Last but not least, be yourself. Forget what others say (unless your gut tells you to listen up). Forget even my ramblings. This is your photographic journey. Make the most out of it.

  3. Ian- Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve been a member for a while but don’t visit the forums as much as I should.
    I’m going to go add my 2 cents to the conversation.

  4. Randy, I respect Megan for her honesty, passion and drive. It’s not often you see all three of those wrapped into one. She has been nothing but professional with our communications and her school story was just honesty and not being afraid to speak her mind. Nothing wrong with that.

    Also, here we go again with the “over-processed images” talk. I made a post about that a couple months back and like it or not, photoshop is the future of photography. Obviously many people like Megan’s work, myself included. I would love to have at least two of her images on my wall at 20X30 just the way they are.

    I feel Photoshop can be a great tool to express your vision you had in mind when shooting the image. Anyway, I know of a few photographers who are insanely successful and they all “do it their way” and many love their work just for that reason.

    At the end of the day it is all about difference of opinions. Some photographers hate photoshop, some love it and embrace it. We are all free to have our own opinions. Megan seems to already be enjoying some success so I applaud her for that. Doing it her way seems to be working and at only 18, she has many years to build on that success.

  5. Randy- I think you are mistaking my sense of humor as ‘immaturity.’ I don’t think you have a right to judge my character or work ethic if you have never done business with me.

  6. “… but what the hell? I am an artist. I can say whatever I want, hah?” Also, her website describes her getting kicked out of school as ‘not my fault’.

    I see immaturity and some over processed images. To be a successful artist/photography means having maturity and a sense of professionalism; being able to relate to customers and clients, and being able to relate and adapt to the needs of the job. The quickest way to be a ‘starving artist’ is to say the heck with everyone, I’m doing it my way.

    Good luck to Megan, but I hope she learns some respect and gains some maturity in her journey to be a photographer.

    Randy

  7. Owl City are absolutely huge in the UK at the moment – you should get some good exposure – their single is currently at Number 1 in the charts I believe. I really like their music having being a big Postal Service fan (addict) for quite some time.

    Anyway, best of luck with all future endeavours – you deserve it from what I’ve seen of your current work and your dedication to the cause 🙂

  8. First of all, I want to thank all of you for reading, commenting, and for the nice words. I’m not sure if anyone will see this but I thought I should address some of the comments.

    Geronimo – I’m not sure what you meant by ‘a good education’ I am completely self taught in everything that I do, even in school I was on a curriculum without any real ‘teachers’ where the students taught themselves, and after that I was ‘unschooled’ which was also about teaching myself. In a way, I haven’t had any ‘education’ but have lived my life with an open mind to learning things. Just wanted to get that out there. And the same thing to
    Anthony- I am not in university, have never been, and never intend to. I have more money to focus on my photography rather than throwing bucket loads of it at schooling. I also make money off my photography with print sales along with my work in the music industry (you can see some of my photos in Owl City’s new deluxe edition cd which came out this week)

    Oh and Mr. V- I see what you are saying, especially in this collection of photographs. You’ll see there is a broader range of composition in the photos on my website.

    Also I wanted to mention that people can join my fanclub on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/meganbakerphotography?ref=ts

    or follow me on twitter: http://twitter.com/mbakerphoto

    thanks again everyone.

  9. Good work by interview and interviewee. BUT it leaves me wanting to know more. At 18 I was struggling to get a University place, and had problems affording a fixed lens 35 mm Retinette and film.
    The lady’s passion is admirable but she must be getting amazing support from someone, I and my contemporaries could no more afford a Leica. M3 and road trips than cycle to the moon.
    Perhaps she will share, since there must be many other passionate people who cannot see a way to express their art due to practical barriers.

  10. Well, I like how she captures her subjects, especially with people. But the composition can oftentimes be a bit dull- it is all centralized. She would be positively amazing if she read up on comp/the rule of thirds.

  11. Mother has the C-Section Blues………Baby was born with a M9,50mm/nocti.
    around his neck..Please pass the Lens Tissue………………

  12. Very good interview and very inspiring. I’ll be getting my first DSLR in the next few days and this site is a great place for inspiration. Hopefully after a few years shooting, my work might be good enough for a place here too (although I’m not going to be shooting Leica – sorry 🙁 – I settled on a cheap Kx 85mm f1.4 to get me started, my budget wouldn’t stretch to Leica glass)

    Anyway, fantastic pictures from Megan and I hope she becomes very successful and renowned for her wonderful work. I’m going to have a browse of her website now. Keep these reviews coming Steve – they’re very good indeed. 🙂

  13. Excellent interview Steve! Great read with an inspiring, thoughtful and articulate artist. And on top of it, her work is sublime.

    I used to teach high school photography back in my early twenties; I’d have visiting artists come by once in awhile — would have loved to have had Megan come teach and lecture for a day!

    Keep it up.
    marzuki

  14. Inspireing, I have 4 daughters from 5 to 13 and that interview makes me think of what a good education is. It does feel like ¨ I can’t wait for what’s to come ¨.

    We (the family) will have to follow her and learn.

    grate interview.

  15. Hello great work, nice move steve to feature photographers, being, young, old, newcomers, longtime roadwarriors… Nice move, I saw two wxhibits in the last 8 days, more than ever in my whole life. About asking about photoshopping, I asked Steve about that once and it was really to see the potential of the cam and lense in good hands… I know what I should try to achieve. When I look at photoshopped pictures taken with the d-lux4, mine don’t come close but when I looked at steves vacation pictures, they look more like mine. Before I buy a M8 with 2 lenses (10,000$) I want to know if the pictures that convinced me were all tweaked or not. Just don’t have the time to spend tweaking them all, i am not an artist, just a guy who likes to express his creativity through the control of a technical system… So now I know that the picture of his son and the green bike is something I could achieve given the right conditions without spending hours at PS. Great work, many galleries feature photographers here in Montreal…Have fun

  16. Nice work and real passion for the craft. I have been shooting professionally for thirty years and am often approached by young photographers who are looking for some kind of advice about how to “break-into” the market, or to advance their carrier… ( they are generally looking for a job ). Most have been through a dismal school program of some sorts. I am almost without exception underwhelmed. Not so much by the work they present, but more so from their lack of passion. Megan’s work is exceptional, for someone her age, but more importantly, her passion is super-exceptional! This is a tough profession, to succeed requires eating, sleeping and breathing photography, anything less won’t result in a successful carrier in this field, not in this marketplace. I applaud the commitment! And “One lens”, I remember being young and only having a minimal amount of equipment, pretty amazing. A visit to http://tinyurl.com/ybsuqs6 will put some perspective to the author of these comments, it’s a link an interview.

    Don Farrall

  17. Steve

    Another great initiative and what a great start to what hopefully becomes a wonderful series. But next time, please check the interviewee’s passport; she seems very wise and technically advanced for an 18-year old haha!

  18. Wow, this is beautiful and inspiring work. Thank you for sharing. I’m really looking forward to more featured photographer posts.

  19. Steve, excellent interview with a talented young lady. I was glad to see that she got started at a early age and has stayed with it. She has a very artistic flair and a technical talent that belies her age. There is a lot to say about being self taught and self reliant. Megan keep up the good work.

  20. Comparing a photoshop to darkroom is complete nonsense….its like comparing those new plastic looking DSLR to a M9….hehehe.

  21. Thanks Steve for posting this interview. Megan – you got game! I can feel the emotion in your work. The composition and the way you developed them (in photoshop) are wonderful.

    Best of luck to you……

    Allyn

  22. Great feature Steve…

    and GREAT WORK Megan! Your photographs are amazing and you are truly talented. I love all of your work, but the first photo in this article drew me right in… it is absolutely gorgeous. I’ll definitely be following your work from now on!

    Good luck to you in the future and much success!

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