Born and raised in New York, Bill Baker has been a resident of Albuquerque for the past two decades, a city he chose for its proximity to Mexico,
Known mainly for his award-winning, life-like and often life-size pastels of Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, recently Baker has shifted his focus to farther-flung places, including Tibet, Mongolia and Africa where he has turned his camera lens on the indigenous people of those regions, with the same sensitivity he has shown in capturing the lives of the Tarahumara.
The work Baker creates from the photographs he takes on his travels are valuable documents of a disappearing natural world. Places he recalls were once virtually impossible to find have now been discovered and the tribes who once lived in harmony with the rhythms of Nature, drink Coca Cola and wear Adidas with their tribal garb.
When I talked to Bill on the phone a week or so ago, he was on his way to Peru to participate in the Quylluriti Snow Star festival.
Every year, thousands of pilgrims gather in the Sinakara Valley, in the Peruvian Andes, near Cusco, to celebrate the Snow Star Festival. Dancers and musicians perform during the three-day festival, a celebration combining Catholic, Incan, and other indigenous beliefs. The centuries-old festival celebrates the reappearance of the Pleiades star cluster marking the start of the harvest season, along with honoring Christ, and the local glacier, which is held to be sacred.
“I’m really looking forward to this trip,” Bill told me, “especially because I’m going with my 13-year-old son.”
Bill had recently returned from Tarahumara country, accompanied by his partner and Michael McCormick’s Gallery Director, Jamie Garrison. where the three had traveled to capture the people so beloved by the artist, one more time.
Jamie is an incredibly talented photographer who took the shots you see here, of Bill photographing the people he has long held a fascination for, (and the people themselves.)
“She’s great with the camera,” he said, “I just had to show her how to find the best light because she’s used to shooting inside or in a studio, but once she got it, she captured the people and their energy perfectly.”
I asked Bill how much the villages have changed since he first began travelling to them over two decades ago,
“You know I imagine it was like coming across the Plains Indians in the 1870’s,” he explained, “when I first visited, and then jump to say the 1950’s here in the States, and that’s what you are seeing there now.”
“There are still a few women in tribal dress, but most have incorporated Western garments as well.”
“We visited one village, very small, still with authentic pockets of Tarahumara culture,” he continued, “which was great because I really wanted Jamie to have that experience.”
I asked if he had started any new paintings inspired by the trip.
“I’ve already finished one,” he laughed.
Clearly this stone gathers no moss. Baker is nothing if not disciplined, focused and prolific. One visit to “his” room at the Michael McCormick Gallery, and one is both awed and humbled by the artist’s output and incredible skill at capturing not only every detail of his subject’s clothing and gestures, but also their emotions and the landscape they are a such a part of.
In fact Baker captures the essence of that belonging, that connection to the very earth they spring from.
Bill and his son are in Peru as I write this and after that he heads to Bolivia to photograph tribal people there, capturing lives he fears will soon go the way of the world. Globalised and consumed.
Baker’s new painting is at the top of this page, along with the incredible photographs Jamie took as she accompanied the artist on that leg of his never-ending journey of Art.
Bill Baker is a multi award-winning artist who shows exclusively with the Michael McCormick Gallery, in Taos.
For more about Bill Baker and his truly extraordinary work, please visit the Michael McCormick Gallery Website linked below this post.
Featured image pastel by Bill Baker
All photographs by Jamie Garrison