Peter Baker is a versatile, Ann Arbor-based photographer who has worked on a number of high-profile projects (with clients as diverse as I.D. Magazine, Hermann Miller, ESPN, and Zara) and had his work featured in an impressive assortment of publications (including How Magazine and American Photographer). While a meaningful percentage of Peter’s commercial work involves portraiture, his body of personal and professional images features a broad and compelling mix of beautifully captured landscapes, editorial subject matter and lifestyle shots. We’re grateful that Peter took the time to tell us about some of his influences and interests, and to give us a little insight into his process. Be sure to check out his lists after you read the below interview.
Listgeeks: What originally got you interested in taking pictures?
Peter Baker: When my drawing skills couldn’t keep up with my imagination, and when I realized I was forgetting about some of the great places I was going. I also had a great professor in college who got me a lot more in to photography as a documentary art, rather than a purely visual art.
LG: From the outside, it seems like you and your wife Michelle, with whom you partner on design-related projects as Elevated Works, take on a pretty wide range of projects. How do you figure out where to focus your creative energy?
PB: That’s a tough question, I’m not sure we’re terribly good at that, the focusing of creative energies. We both get obsessed with different things at different times, and just try to keep the bills paid while getting side tracked on whatever shiny thing is in front of us at the time. I’m a dilettante about a lot of things, but try to get good at all of them a little at a time. So one week I’ll play with lamp making, then woodshop projects, then tinkering with circuit boards, all while trying to keep up with skills we’re actually paid for. I’m sure there’s some rationalization to be made about variety being a valuable thing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say we spread ourselves a bit thin.
LG: You’ve captured some quintessentially American images in a few of the personal projects featured on your site (Go West, These Great Lakes, Scrubbed and from your travels in Alaska) and a fantastic group of images from a visit to Iceland (Iceland) – if you could pick two or three places you’ve never been to spend a week shooting, where would you go? Has travel/being on the road always been an important inspiration?
PB: That’s actually one of the first lists I’ve made on Listgeeks. I would kill to shoot in North Korea for a while, or any of the post-Soviet eastern bloc areas. There’s something magical about the unified architecture and really heavy-handed aesthetic of those areas.
I’d also go back to Iceland in a heartbeat, and southern Chili/Argentina. I like the edges of places. Kamchatka looks pretty too. Travel is really important to me, I get bored with my immediate surrounding (visually) really quickly, no matter where I’ve lived. Once I’ve photographed an area, I sort of feel done with it, and want to move on.
LG: Who are some of the photographers/artists you find inspiring these days?
LG: While your commercial photography work has involved a wide range of clients (I’ll list a few here), it also seems like you’ve made an effort to focus on local/regional projects as well. How is working in photography different for you, do you think, compared with photographers working primarily in places like L.A. or New York?
PB: Not being in a major media market like New York, LA, or even Chicago is definitely an impediment against having a full-time career as a commercial photographer, no doubt about that. But it’s not like it’s exactly easy for everyone living in those cities either, and I’d hate for photography to ever feel like a grind, so I’m lucky that I can do other things that people want to pay for that aren’t as dependent on my location, and keep a healthy mix of pursuits, both personal and commercial.