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vol 4 - issue 11 (aug 2002) :: interviews
ANGIE BAAN
interview by debbie

FLASH. GIVE ME FASHION.

FLASH. GIVE ME BEAUTY IN THE MUNDANE.

FLASH. GIVE ME NON-PLASTIC PATRIOTISM.

FLASH. DEBBIE GIVES YOU ANGIE BAAN.

Debbie: Do you remember the first camera you ever owned or the first picture you ever shot?

Angie: Yeah. I stole my mother's camera and dressed my brother up in a pinstripe suit and combed his hair. I propped him against some wooden doors. I used to dress him up in clothes all the time. I had to switch to putting him in suits because my dad got really mad once (laughs), 'cause I was putting him in dresses.

D: Your mom didn't care about the dresses?

A: No. She was probably sedated. (laughs) You don't have to put that in there.

D: (laughs) Do you want me to take that out?

A: Naw. That's fine.

D: So your parents have been pretty supportive from the beginning?

A: Supportive? Yeah.

D: I only ask because, sometimes parents want their children to go into something besides art since there's no money in it.

A: Well, my mom wanted me to be a physical therapist and marry a rich athlete. I think she was trying to live her dreams through me.

D: She wanted to marry a football player?

A: I think she really wanted to marry a rich man. Instead she married my father.

D: I'm sure he has his positive aspects, even though he's not rich.

A: Oh yeah. That's why they got a divorce.

D: Ooh! Sorry. God, how'd we get into that?

A: (laughs) I'm good like that. The reason I bring up things like the divorce is because I actually think they're kind of funny. Your magazine's really funny, so it should fit right in.

D: True. So is marrying a sports star still an option for you?

A: I don't think so.

D: You could take pictures of sports stars.

A: Oh, yeah. I could. (laughs)

D: How did you get started in art and taking pictures as a career?

A: It was my junior year in high school, and I thought I was gonna be a psychiatrist or a physical therapist. But then I took one art class and my art teacher really liked my work. She encouraged me to pursue it. So I won a couple awards while I was in high school. Then I decided that I wanted to take it more seriously. And my parents said, "Oh. How can you make money?"

D: And you told them, "I'm in high school. I don't know yet."

A: Well, when I graduated, I decided that and I told them. I had been shooting stuff and cutting up magazines. I was just really fascinated by imagery. Then I decided that I wanted to go to this really expensive art school. I was the first one in my family to go to college.

D: So was that an extra weight on your shoulders?

A: It was pretty funny because I had no idea what I was getting into. I picked a really expensive school. I was working a lot. It was really great. But I started to hone in on the more artistic aspect and taking my photography more seriously when I left school. I left school two and a half years into it. I started working in the field. When I was working at the studio, a veil was lifted. I was helping photograph cereal boxes and tires for K-Mart. I learned a lot and started to do my own stuff on the side. That's when I started photographing my friends and getting back into studying photography in my own way, rather than worrying about being technical and getting a job. I handmade all these little books and dropped them off at galleries. Now I do both.

D: It's awesome that when you got out of school, you immediately went and got a job in your field.

A: Actually, I worked at a gas station and a restaurant when I got out of school. And I lived in a trailer. (laughs)

D: (laughs) Was it your trailer, or did you rent it?

A: It was a mobile home. We rented it. That's what happens when you get out of school, don't have any money and you're looking for a job.

D: Yeah. When you're in school, you don't have any money. When you get out of school, you have even less money. You mentioned not being worried about the technical side of photography. But it's a very technical art form.

A: It's very technical. I started to loosen my grip on the technical aspect of it after I left school. But then I started to do my own experimenting. Also, the formality of what people think is traditionally "good photography",.. I kind of loosened my grip on that, too. I began experimenting with what I thought looked good. That really started to open me up.

D: How big was the change in your work?

A: Well, I was shooting a lot of fashion in school. But I was really focused on trying to emulate Richard Avedon or whatever I'd seen. When I left, and I think it had partially to do with the fact that I was living in the real world now, I started to see beauty in regular things. I took my friends and I made them fashion models. Most of my friends are beautiful anyway.

D: Aw, you're just saying that.

A: They are. (laughs) I started to put them in real situations and backdrops, rather than trying to set up an editorial photo shoot that I saw in Vogue. I started to walk around with my friends. We'd be walking through a trailer park, or in the woods, and I'd just photograph them as they were talking. Whatever happened, happened. That's part of the experimenting,.. just letting it go. And I think part of that had to do with just realizing that the true creativity and to have a real breakthrough with photography, you need to take chances and relate it to your own life.

D: The fact that you use your friends in your pictures, instead of models, adds this whole tangible quality to your work.

A: I think you can find beauty in everything in your life. It's just your attitude and your disposition. I think that's a really important thing that real artists and successful people realize-- that there's value in regular, normal, everyday things.

D: Even though you use people you know for all your work, your fashion photography is very different from your personal work, like the stuff you shot in Hamtramck. Do you approach the two kinds of subject matter differently?

A: Well, when I set up a fashion shoot, I'm asking someone if I can photograph them. So, right there, the dialogue between you and the person you're photographing is totally different from approaching someone on the street. For a lot of my personal work I use this little camera that I got for a Christmas gift. It was my first digital camera. It's a lot like the older, twin-lens-reflex cameras where the image is upside down. So I could hold it down by my waist and snap the picture. They're a lot more spontaneous. What I'd love to do is try to keep that quality with the more journalistic documentary work, and also try to convey that with my fashion photography as much as possible. But it's really hard. When you ask someone if you can photograph them as a model, then the whole thing becomes something else. They're too aware of the camera.

D: Do you still feel awkward asking people if you can take their picture?

A: I'm getting better at it. I used to be really horrible at it. I was intimidated by everyone I wanted to photograph. But now I can approach people a little better. But usually, I stick to that "sneak it" theme. My friend has a quote: "It's better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission." It just works out better that way.

D: Unless you come across a Native American and you take their picture. In which case, you've just captured a part of their soul. What formats do you work in?

A: All formats. Mostly digital, though. It depends on what it is going to be used for. That's how I decide what medium I'm going to use. I like to use digital because it's cheap (laughs) and spontaneous.

D: It's cool that you embrace the technology and you aren't just using it for snapshots. You're using it to make art.

A: It's kinda hard not to when you're a photographer.

D: You talked about the trailer parks a couple times, and when I think of trailer parks, I think "America."

A: Oh yeah.

D: And in a bunch of your photos, the US flag pops up. There's this whole sense of you showing what America is like. Is that something you consciously keep in your work?

A: Very much so. I'm constantly looking for cultural identification of America and questioning what's American. It's hard to look at yourself or your society or the culture that you live in when you're in it. But if you can somehow turn that microscope on yourself and the people around you, it can really create some awakening within you-- what it is we're doing here and why things are the way they are. Just finding beauty in something you’d normally call mundane. I live in Hamtramck, Michigan, and the reason I really like living there is because we have a lot of different ethnic people living there. There's five or six different languages spoken in this little city, and it's only two square miles. It's kinda weird because it's right outside of Detroit, and Detroit's so scattered. Hamtramck is really intense and packed. And everybody likes living there. I need to surround myself with that because the illusions of grandeur that you see in magazines, that glorify America in this really plasticy way, really don't do anything for me spiritually.

D: I was just about to ask you how you felt about this sudden boom in patriotism, and how everybody's into flying the flag now.

A: It's kind of like, the Red Wings just won the Stanley Cup, so now everybody's a Red Wings fan again. It's bandwagon patriotism. I'm glad that people are in the spirit, but it's almost like America is a brand. Somewhere in there, it gets lost. The only way I can get reacquainted with it is to be where I live and really experience what America can do. I don't consider myself a patriotic person in a showy sense of the word. I just appreciate what we have here. I don't wear the flag on my sleeve or on my car.

D: Oh my God. I can't talk to you anymore.

A: (laughs)

D: I dig what you're saying. Like you said, America's been turned into a brand. There's a bunch of clothing and merchandise now that's all red, white and blue and Americana this and that.

A: Yeah. What does that say about us? It's just kinda weird.

D: No wonder people are burning our flag overseas. They can buy 25 of 'em for a nickel. I worked in a gift shop back on September 11th. Like, two days after it happened, this guy came in and tried to sell us a bunch of American flag ties. I was just like, "No. Get out."

A: It's so sad.

D: It's like you said: It's hard for people in it to turn around and look at themselves.

A: Right. I think that a lot of Americans are ignorant to the idea of living a normal life. Meaning, no credit cards, no big, glorious facade in front of them.

D: What? No cable TV or wishes for fame and stardom?

A: One day I was driving on the road in my car that I took out a loan to buy. I was really frustrated because the thing was falling apart. I looked over at the other people driving around me and I thought, "Do any of these people actually own their car? Do they even want to own their car?” That's kinda weird to me. It's like we live in this culture where we can't save up some money, buy a car, and take care of it. You don't get a new one. You take care of the one you have. That's why such a large percentage of us are in debt. It's crazy.

D: So much of American culture is given to us through entertainment. You get these magazines, movies, and TV shows, and they're constantly pounding you with people who are larger than life. A part of you ends up wanting to be those people. I think that if you aren't smart or aware enough to get out of that mindset--

A: That's what I was gonna say. I think that a lot of people are ignorant to real life. They don't want to deal with the life they have. They don't know how to take care of themselves. They don't know how to sit down and breath for five minutes, without any distractions. No TV. No radio. They can't sit down alone. I don't think that many families even eat dinner together. If aliens came down from a distant planet and came to America, they would think that television was a god. They would think that cars were our exoskeletons.

D: Yeah. I know exactly what you mean about the families not eating together. When I visit my parents, at dinner time, my mom's in the living room watching M.A.S.H. reruns--

A: With a plate in front of her face.

D: Yeah. Little sister's in her bedroom watching TV. Dad's upstairs watching TV.

A: Right. Everyone takes their food and goes into another room. That's just the way our culture is.

D: Obviously, American culture is important to you. What else do you find important?

A: To me in my life, or in photographs?

D: In your life.

A: What's important to me is to live life-- to be in life and experience it. Part of how I do that is through meditation. That's how I deal with and enjoy life. Whenever something's brought to light to me, I try to do something about it. Nobody knows everything. But when you do learn something, it's important to be responsible. I try to recycle, eat healthy and be a vegetarian. (laughs) I try to be nice to people, and take pictures for a living. I try to see the good nature in people I meet. I try to make friends with anybody, whether they have a lifestyle like mine or not. I try to understand people. My photography is kind of like my diary. My camera can be used as a pen. I keep a journal of my pictures, and I also write in it. (laughing) It all sounds kind of boring now that I'm telling you: "Oh, I get up in the morning and go to meditation. I eat food and I go for a jog. I try to ride my bike."

D: And then you go take pictures.

A: I take pictures the whole time. I try to keep awake and see things around me. That's how I get the pictures I get. It's kind of effortless in a way. I have my camera with me and when I see something, I whip it out and take it. That's what I do.

D: Everybody has routines. Your routine sounds like mine, except I don't meditate and eat dead animals.

A: (laughs) That's cool. So tell me your routine.

D: I get up and work some. Then I go on a bike ride with my friend. I come home and do more work. I run errands and have lunch. I work more until dinner. Then, if I can, I do something fun at night.

A: Did you ever find yourself in a routine like this: "I have this car so I can go to work, so I can pay for my car, so I can go to work so I can pay for my car." It's a cycle. (laughs) Just something you're paying for that you're not really enjoying. I think that so many people do that. They have things in their life that they can't even appreciate because they're too busy working for it.

D: There's this philosophy that revolves around coffee. You get up and drink a cup of coffee. The coffee gives you a jump-start so you can go to work and make money. When you get your paycheck, you go out and buy coffee, so you can get up to go to work.

A: (laughing) Exactly! It's okay to have a 9-to-5 job. We need schedule and discipline to keep the world going. But, whatever you do 9-to-5, it's important to like what you do and not be doing it for the money. That's really important.

D: You don't have a 9-to-5 do you?

A: No. Not right now.

D: I feel like a spoiled brat when it comes to getting a job. I'm just like, "I don't want one!"

A: (laughing) I know. Me too! I'll scrape by on five months of Ramen noodles and cockroaches before I get a real job. No, I'm just kidding! (laughs) I think that wealth is an illusion. I think that we're wealthy even if we are scraping by eating Ramen noodles. Because we have it better off than any other country. We will never be in that dire of straits. Mother Theresa once said something like, “America has the biggest spiritual deficit of any country.” We are the poorest when it comes to spirituality, even though we're one of the richest.

D: That makes me feel great. I'm gonna go into my room and cry.

A: (laughing) No! I just mean that it's important to appreciate what you have. I'm on this spiritual kick right now, so you'll have to excuse me.

D: It sounds like you've made so much of your time. You're taking the time to appreciate every second for what it's worth. Do you have any upcoming projects you want to mention?

A: I have a show coming up at The Center for Photography in Woodstock in 2004. I don't know if that's too far in advance to let people know.

D: Oh, not at all. I've actually built a time machine and am gonna go and look at the show right now.

A: (laughs)

D: Alright. My last question is something we ask everybody. Do dogs have lips?

A: Hmm,.. I don't know. (laughs) I wanted to say something witty.

D: You're our first “I don't know.”

A: (laughs) Cool.

VISIT ANGIE AT PHOTOBAAN.COM


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