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Friends

by Dr Christopher Chapman, 10 October 2016

Hugh 2015, by Warwick Baker
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Hugh 2015, by Warwick Baker

I remember seeing a self-portrait photograph of Warwick Baker aged in his mid-twenties seven years ago – it was a finalist for the National Portrait Gallery’s Youth Self Portrait Prize. Warwick’s standing on the bank of Canberra’s Molonglo River, near the hospice where his mother had passed away. Framed by a tumble of dry tree trunks Warwick looks into the camera with an uncertain face. There, in the exposed environment under a pale sky, he’s unprotected save for his white jocks. It’s a self portrait that expresses vulnerability and – as he puts it – his mortality.

Baker’s photographic style is quietly observational. In the exhibition Tough and tender a suite of thirteen photographs portray friends from his social circle. As a group his subjects express a fluid gender dimension. Some look into Warwick’s camera lens with an open gaze. In their peaceful manner they could appear to be saying ‘I am me, accept me for who I am’. Some are in reflective thought, their gaze slightly to the side or down, away from the camera.

Warwick baker’s photo of Hugh shows a young man on a couch strewn with detritus maybe from the night before. He’s in his slippers and undies and his face is masked with what looks like moisturising cream. What’s he thinking about? What kind of expression of self-hood has he found? In the exhibition Tough and tender Warwick Baker’s photos of his friends are intimate. They hold a stillness that allows their subjects to be at ease.