Interview with Baldomero Fernandez, Juror’s Pick, 2011 Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Work-in-Process Prize

Interview with Baldomero Fernandez

Juror’s Pick (Sasha Wolf), Daylight/CDS Photo Awards Work-in-Process Prize

In what ways, if any, does your Cuban background impact your work?

It impacts my work in subtle ways. I approach image-making with a different filter than someone with a different background. I believe every image-maker has their own filter dictated by their own particular set of circumstances and background, but my background is just one of the many things about me that informs my work.

In a large number of your photographs from Middletown, cars are prominent elements. What is the significance of these automobiles to you?

I really love cars, and one of the things I love about cars is how they have a date attached to them. Whether it’s through a particular body style of that year or decade, cars help us to identify a time when the photographs may have been taken. It doesn’t necessarily date the photographs, but it can help to inform the viewer as to the background of the owner. In Middletown I kept being drawn to scenes where there were cars. They were usually styles from the ’80s and ’90s and I found it interesting that they made things look much more dated than they really were. For me it seemed to really give Middletown some life, as well as play with the idea of America and how we tend to have love affairs with our cars. More importantly though, if the viewer knows when the photos where made they get a sense of the conditions of life for the people living in “Middletown.” It’s an anachronism, here are twenty- and thirty-year-old cars being driven around well into the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

How do you go about finding locations and people as subjects for your photographs in this project?

Finding locations for Middletown is not really a task I ever consciously set out for. Many of the photos happened while I was on assignment for other jobs that took me into the heart of America. I also enjoy road trips, and it’s easy to find these scenes if one just leaves a metropolitan area. The reality is much of our country is not doing so great, so finding depressed areas is not as hard as you might think.

You have an extensive background in fashion photography. Is there anything from this experience that carries over into the Middletown project?

For me a project like Middletown is a release valve from the myth of fashion. Fashion photography is about fiction. As much as I love the stylistic aspects of fashion photography, the reality is that there is no truth in fashion. Fashion is all fantasy and make-believe. I was feeling a bit like a fraud constantly making those images. Embarking on a project like Middletown was about the most subversive thing I could do. I really needed to do this; here we are in the middle of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression and day in and day out I am making fashion photographs about beautiful women in beautiful clothes, and I’m asking myself, What is the purpose? Meanwhile I’m traveling through different parts of the country, and the reality of our present state is completely the opposite. I felt like I was living in two worlds at once, so I decided to photograph the other side of what I was seeing.

As dark as the images are, they are immensely fulfilling and satisfying to make, in a way fashion photography rarely, if ever is. I don’t really consider myself a “documentary photographer” or a “fashion photographer,” I’m just a photographer; I enjoy the simple act of making beautiful images that speak to people. My hope would be that experiences in fashion photography carry over into my personal work and vice versa. Maybe they both help each other to make stronger work in the end.

Read more about Baldomero Fernandez’s work.

CDS undergraduate student Chris Hurtado conducted this interview as part of the “Multimedia Documentary” class in the fall of 2011.  

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