Evan Baden is a young photographic artist whose work has been added to the collections of the Walker Art Center, Milwaukee Art Museum and The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. In November of 2008, he was named as one of the five Jerome Fellows for 2008-09. He was nominated in 2009 for the Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers. With his recent "Technically Intimate" series, he re-stages young girls posting suggestive images of themselves on the Internet.
Q: Who or what conditions have influenced your figurative photography?
A: I think that I have always wanted to have people in my images. I just really love trying to tell a story and create a character in a single image. My images are a glimpse into the lives of these characters; it is up to the viewer to figure out what came before and what comes next. That is really intriguing to me.
Q: What do you think of exploring various technologies in your imagery, like the utilization of facebook, cellphones etc?
A: I think that exploring those aspects of our society is really important. Even though the devices and social networking sites have not been around that long, they are already going a long way in shaping our culture. Especially when it comes to the younger generations. They have one life in the real world, and an entirely different life in the virtual world. Art is possibly one of the best forms of social critique because it can be made quickly (say, much faster than writing a book) and since we are a visual culture we tend to be drawn to it.
Q: You seem to be depicting youthful portraiture of dependency and intimacies with devices. How do you see your early nocturnal Illuminati series?
A: That series was an examination of the paradox that technology both connects us and isolates us as the same time. Many young people are very dependent on the devices that connect them to others. To them, these devices are integral to their societal structure. With Technically Intimate I am trying to go further in showing how devices are integrating themselves into all aspects of young people’s lives, including their sexuality.
Q: Are you attracted to observing interactions with mobile connection devices normally, in your everyday contexts?
A: Yes. It is something that I have always noticed, even before I started the Illuminati series back in 2006. And once I began working with technological interactions as subject matter it was much easier to see. It has gotten to the point where it is somewhat frustrating and annoying how much devices tend to get in the way. Especially when trying to interact with someone in high school or college, it always seems as if there is some sort of device that they need to check or respond to.
Q: Do you this this work has altered your personal experience with such technologies?
A: I think that by working with people and their devices as subject matter has changed how I view them personally. I notice the extent to which people, especially young people, use them much more than I did previously. If anything, it has made me more aware of how and when I use my cell phone. I think that everyone should just be a little more aware of the people around them and that it is important not to let those devices interfere with communications that are happening face-to-face.
Q: It was great some of your "Technically Intimate" series made it to Toronto’s recent Contact Festival. What do you think of people posting and sending sexually charged images of themselves online?
A: I think that it can be a very dangerous thing, mostly because it lulls you into a false sense of security and/or privacy. When it comes to sending images, young people are very naïve to how public that act can actually become. Many young people will send sexually charged or explicit images of themselves fully believing that the only other person that will ever see that image is the person they are sending it to. However, a lot of the time the receiver forwards or posts the image somewhere, and once the image has been forwarded or posted it is impossible to get the image back. Anyone who sends or posts any image should automatically think that the image will be in a public space (no matter how private they believe that space to be) and that they will never be able to delete or retrieve the image. If people kept that in mind when making these images, it may happen less.
Q: What was it like finding images, deciding what images from the Internet you’d use as source material for your photos?
A: I went through a lot of images and did a lot of writing about what I was seeing before deciding on which images I wanted to use. As I searched through the thousands of images that are online, I began to notice certain elements that would be common in a group of images. I began to categorize the images. Then I would pick one or two images that I thought represented the group, and that was the image that I went about recreating. Later in the process, as I began to meet models that had actually sent images of themselves in the past, we began to recreate the images that they had sent instead, which is something that I would like to continue with as I finish up the series.
Q: In using mostly female models, what do you think of how women are constructing self-eroticism online differently from conventional porn?
A: I think the images that women construct are very different from those that men send or post. The thought process about the images that women make seems to be much more in-depth than those of men. It is different from conventional porn because if often appears much more awkward than the poses in conventional porn, which makes the image more interesting for me. It is as if these young women are trying to represent themselves in a desirous way, but do not yet have the experience to execute it correctly, and that says a lot about the age of the young women that are taking the image.
The best and most interesting parts of the images that I am finding are the settings. The backgrounds of the images speak volumes about the young women in the image. Many times there is a direct clash between the room (which often appears as that of a young girl) and the hypersexual pose. The viewer is unsure of whether to view the young women in the image as a sexual object or a little girl. I try and carry that ambiguity into the images that I am taking.
Q: What do you think of the nude at a desk, seemingly using something like Skype?
A: The Skype image (Heidi and John) is one of my favourites and I think one of the most successful images in the series so far. The pose of the model is great, but what makes the image special to me is the face of the guy on the computer screen, peering in. It is something that goes largely unnoticed by the viewer unless they take the time to really look at the image. And it tends to really disturb the viewer.
Q: What do you think of the development of webcams and how some are being used erotically?
A: The webcam is a great invention. I think it is a great thing. It has the power to connect in ways that the public has long dreamed of in sci-fi films. Being able to see someone while you talk to them is so much more powerful than just hearing them. It is much the same as when the telephone was invented. People could actually hear someone on the other end of the line instead of just reading a letter or telegram.
It didn’t take long for the webcam to become a means of sexual fulfillment though. Entire communities of exhibitionists exist on the Internet using their webcams. I think what really pushed things forward though was when Apple began to include them on every laptop. Now there was no need to buy and install a separate piece of hardware. What will be really interesting is what happens with the new iPhone and it’s ability to broadcast live video to other users. This makes the webcam mobile. And while there were other phones that have had this ability in the past, none had the user base or popularity that the iPhone enjoys. And there are a lot of young people that have iPhones on their wish list.
I guess I don’t have a problem with someone using a webcam in an erotic setting, just like I don’t have a problem with people taking and posting / sending images of themselves. I think where the problem comes in is when those taking the images or broadcasting themselves are too young to understand that they are turning themselves into an object solely for another’s enjoyment. If you understand what you are doing and enjoy that, it’s your life and you can do as you like. But if you are too young to understand this, then you begin to believe that this is something that you are expected and supposed to be doing. And growing up like that can lead to a lot of problems socially.
Q: You seem to be interested in the appearances of how women are turning cameras on themselves. Do you think there is interest in the depiction of women, voyeurizing herself with cameras, different from conventional modelling situations?
A: I think that what Technically Intimate deals with and conventional modeling have many similarities and differences. Many of the poses and facial expressions of posted / sent images mimic modeling, especially adult modeling. Where the difference is, and it is a large difference, is that these young women are turning the camera on themselves. So, where in modeling commercially many times the female is turned into an object of desire, in Technically Intimate, the young women are turning themselves, willingly, into that object. They are not portraying themselves as intelligent or strong, they are making themselves into a submissive object that is to be desired by men. They are seeing images of females that have been turned into sexualized objects and using those images as a mould that they believe they need to fit into. It is interesting because it seems in many cases that these young women yearn to be objectified, which I think differs greatly from conventional modeling.
Q: How did the models feel about the posing holding a camera on themselves suggestively? Had the girls done this before?
A: Some of the models had sent or taken photos in their personal lives. Of those, they viewed what they had done, and in turn what we were doing in different ways. There were a couple instances where the shoot that I did with the model became emotional, instances where they had been coerced or pressured in to sending images of themselves at some time in the past, but for the most part, the young women who modeled in the images had no problem with it, which was somewhat surprising to me.
Q: Are you finding it's particularly young women who are posing suggestively on the Internet? Do you see this as a generational phenomenon in some ways?
A: I am finding that the majority of the images that get posted to the net are of young women. I think that more young women take images of themselves than young men do, but the amount that end up on the Internet are overwhelmingly of young women. I think that speaks more to who is looking though. I do see it as a generational phenomenon. I know that it happens with older people as well, but there was a survey that was conducted shortly after I began the series in 2008 that stated that 25 per cent of the young women surveyed between the ages of 14 and 24 had sent an image of themselves to someone else. I don’t know what the stats are for older generations of women, but I am willing to bet it’s significantly lower than one in four.
Q: I’m curious about your Girls Gone Wild photo shoot. Do you think girls are being affected by GGW imagery and more inclined to lift their shirts for the camera?
A: The GGW shoot that I wanted to do was part of the project from the very beginning but got sidelined when I decided to focus more on the interactions between two people instead of group behaviour. It is though something that I still want to do for the next body of work I want to start. I think what GGW has done is make it acceptable to flash. And further, that you can achieve some sort of ‘fame’ from doing it. People have been flashing for a long time, but GGW turned it into a mainstream and popular thing. The young women in those videos act like they really want the cheesy tank tops that they get as a prize for flashing, but I think the allure of any type of fame is the real driver. And the shirt they get is just a souvenir to prove that they were really on a GGW tape.
There is also a great clip of Keeping Up With The Kardasians where the youngest two sisters are running around the house flashing and repeatedly screaming "Girls Gone Wild!” It’s instances like those that show the impact GGW has had. Then they proceed to hop on the stripper pole in their parents' bedroom; I still don’t know what to make of that.
Q: If some of us are being socially changed through technology -what do you speculate is coming, in terms of technology affecting sexuality?
A: I have to say that I honestly don’t know. I think there are some that believe that these types of actions denote improvement because they see it as people, especially young women, not being afraid of their sexuality. I don’t really believe that is the case though. I think that these actions will lead to a redefinition of what constitutes intimacy and will change how young people view relationships. There is already a notable change in the relationships that young people are having. Relationships are being traded in for hookups, and those that ‘hookup’ often have never really learned how to have a real relationship with the opposite sex. So while I can’t say what will happen, and we won’t know for quite some time, I tend to look at the trend in a somewhat negative light.