Interview with Karl Baden – 2016
Lucrezia Sinigaglia: Regarding your work “Everyday“, began on February 23, 1987: What motivated you to start this project? It ‘ still in progress? Has it become a kind of obsessive ritual or a pleasant habit? Will the work ever get to an end?
Karl Baden: The short answer is, I began Every Day because I simply wanted to see what would happen.
A slightly longer version would be that the idea first occurred to me in 1975, at which time I happened to mention it to a friend, who said she thought it was a ‘dumb’ idea. Of course I believed her and abandoned the project until, twelve years later, I realized the idea was still bouncing around inside my head. It wouldn’t go away. Perhaps I needed the 12 years between 1975 and 1987 to become confident enough to know that if I began the project, I would stick to it. As to the specific date: February 23rd, 1987 was the day after Andy Warhol died. I growing up in the ’60s, I of course had been very familiar with his work, including his films; for example ‘Sleep’, which is an 8 hour film of a person sleeping. Only one camera is used, and it doesn’t move. Or ‘Empire’, a 24 hour film (again, one stationary camera) of the top of the Empire State Building in New York. I think it was the shock of Warhol’s death that gave me the final push.
To answer your other questions: Every Day is a lifelong project. It stops when I am no longer here to keep it going. It is neither an obsessive ritual nor a pleasant habit, although the idea of the project is a meta-comment on the nature of ritual and obsession.
L. S. I read that the photos are taken every morning in a very natural way (without using filters, with a natural pose and same distance, same focus, etc.) trying to make it look always the same. What do you feel when looking at your past pictures and comparing them to the one of the day?
K. B. Like most of us, I think about mortality and how it is externally manifested in the physical effects of aging.
When I compare old and recent images (which is not very often), it’s mostly motivated by curiosity. I am not terribly concerned personally with the effects time has on my face. As I said, I’m interested in seeing what happens, and be able to track it on a day-to-day basis
L. S. Nowadays, thanks to technology, we all try to act as photographers. We take a lot of pictures every day, but then, very often put them aside in a folder of a PC and we forget about them (or we just delete them).
The picture still remains, however, an archive of memory: do you consider your work closer to (i) a way to capture for a moment the intangible nature of time or (ii) just a witness to the inexorable passage of it (memento mori)?
K. B. I don’t see much difference between your two choices as they are written, so I will say the answer is ‘both’, plus a number of additional explanations.
L. S. Going back to self-portrait pictures, they are now called “selfies”. Would you ever thought that this could have become such a trend? Perhaps a new aesthetic is born, of which we don’t have yet full consciousness. Most of the selfies however are pure vanity, pure assertion of the ego (not to mention the filters and tags applied), what is the real meaning of a self-portrait picture done by you?
K. B. Simply put, Every Day is an ongoing visual document involving self-portraiture, in it’s most literal sense, performed within a set of guidelines.
The impulse for this work originates in the vectors of curiosity and distress tied to four factors affecting my life:
2) Incremental change.
3) Obsession (its relation to both the psyche and art-making)
4) The difference between attempting to be Perfect, and being human. Much as I try to make each day’s image a clone of its neighbors, there is always a difference. Sometimes the discrepancy is subtle, sometimes it is hilariously gross. Failure is a foregone conclusion. Life gets in the way. Mistakes are part of the project, and part of the process.
In terms of ‘selfies’ it may be worth noting that, when I began the Every Day project, there were no camera phones, no internet, and the word ‘selfie’ did not exist. In fact, many of the people taking selfies today had not been born. While there are some connections, I don’t really think of my work as selfies in the way they are usually defined. However, I do think it’s important to remember that the practice of holding a camera out and taking a picture of yourself is something photographers have been doing for almost a century, so the impulse for this sort of a self-portrait is not new. What is new is the ability to share that self-portrait almost instantly with many, possibly millions or even billions , of people.
L. S. I also heard you created a time-lapse of ” Everyday”: in my opinion this work perfectly pictures the idea of our brief existence in comparison to Time (that exists from the dawn of creation). Are the pictures that compose the time-lapse available or ever been exposed in a musem/art gallery?
K. B. Yes, individual pictures from the series are available, and have been exhibited on a number of occasions over the years in museums and galleries. You can see most of the ways and venues where Every Day has been shown or published at: http://www.kbeveryday2.blogspot.com
Interview by Lucrezia Sinigaglia, 3rd January 2016