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Jessica Baisden: Fashion Forward

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2008-08-18


The worlds of Fine Art and Fashion have traditionally been something like feuding cousins, both obviously of similar nature, yet each camp demands a separate life, distinguished by both terminology and aesthetic principles.

Over the last two decades however, these boundaries have been crossed many times over and some inbreeding has created a creative world where gallery calendars and fashion seasons can be spoken of interchangeably, with many key figures such as Miuccia Prada (with the fashion house, as well as the art foundation), Karl Lagerfield (designer for Chanel, and fine photography), Juergen Teller (fine photographer as well as fashion work for Marc Jacobs and Yves Saint Laurent), and Andrea Zittell (Fine Artist, Designer).

This has also been mirrored in many award-winning exhibitions such as “Click Chic” which opened at the School of Visual Arts in NYC in Sept. 2007. This show expelled many of the myths associated with “selling out” for fine art photographers whose passion and expression drove them more and more towards the more vernacular and invigorating field of commercial fashion photography.

Following in these vanguard footsteps is a local photographer, Jessica Baisden, whose works can be read as both images of flat attractive beauty, meant to draw in the viewer in the way that glossy pages do, and storytelling, weaving in and out of the viewer’s consciousness. Many of the stories are quite personal, metaphorically driven through subject’s body language and placement, as well as their wardrobe and the colors involved.

Baisden, now 23, has been interested in photography since she was 12 years old. She began delving into photography a bit later, after testing the waters in many forms of media and finding her voice through the lens. Originally from Marion, Baisden came to Fort Wayne to attend the University of St. Francis. While a sophomore at Saint Francis, Baisden received the Jeff and Lilly Dollens Scholarship for photography. “The recognition really boosted my confidence,” she says.

Baisden was also one of the seven artists in Artlink’s “Seven Young Contemporaries” show in November of 2006. When asked about Fort Wayne’s current art scene, Baisden explained that it could “use a little boost.” She went on to say that Fort Wayne artists need more opportunities to showcase their work. Commercially, Baisden may also be recognized by her photography for Dreme Clothing, a Fort Wayne fashion label created by Bob Rebrovich.

While her goals eventually include moving to a larger city, working for a magazine, and having her own studio, Baisden plans to stay in Fort Wayne for the time being and take the time to develop her skills both artistically and commercially. Her influences include the Starn Brothers, David LaChapelle, and Diane Arbus. Baisden also expressed an affinity for Nan Goldin and the genre of fine art documentary photography. Her art concentrates on events that happen in her life, and are then expressed through the models in her photos, like characters in a story or on a stage. This kind of conceptual photography also links her work to more established artists like Jack Pierson, Cindy Sherman, and Hiroshi Sugimoto.

As means to producing her work, Baisden will do a lot of sketching out possibilities for shots and subjects, while keeping in touch with the spontaneity needed to truly encapsulate a subject within the photo. Many times she will become inspired by her surroundings or by the clothing of the subject — usually brought by the model and without much advice from the photographer. “It’s more interesting when the subject is dressed up.” Baisden says. “Especially with bright colors.”

Baisden’s feels fashion photography has a raw connection with the viewer. It becomes the vehicle for her work to engage the viewer even when its actual meaning is somewhat cryptic in its personal specificity. The edginess and beauty of the fashion side of her work balances the emotional, while the thrill of the creativity and trendiness of fashion carry the images into the forefront of our increasingly visually dependent minds.

“I’ll Wait Here Forever”, a hauntingly beautiful image, uses contrast to flatten in the background while simultaneously drawing the eye into the central figure. The added use of perspective, forcing the eyes to travel up the boots in the foreground, onto the face of the figure screams of the compositional elements of fashion photography.

“Stability”, a recent piece, with an optimistic title depicts another central figure that is sprawled out sideways upon a richly textured wooden floor staring at the viewer, and adorned with extremely saturated pink hair and shirt. The figure’s body language has a
Barbie doll stiffness and dressed up quality, while the face is defiant. Baisden says that this image is, “fairly straightforward”, and that, “Right now, I feel like I’m doing exactly what I should be doing for me at this point in my life. Although I don’t have a perfect life, its perfect for me right now.”

While the use of fashion photography in Baisden’s work complicates the transmission of the exact emotional concepts in each piece, this function makes each piece something like a religious icon. These icons are imbued with meaning through the maker of the story, Baisden, who entices you with rich images, and then, like a diary, drags you through emotional baggage until you associate each image as a trigger for the events in her life.

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