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Willyum Baulkey: Fashion Forward

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Many local artists have been taking a common strategy of networking through their local scene extensively, becoming a "big fish," then attempting to move on to larger markets. This can be an effective strategy, and lead to larger projects, or be disastrous as the artist realizes the cost of such moves and the amount of time that it truly takes to break in to new markets. The path less traveled is certainly working patiently over years, building a stronger and stronger portfolio, beginning to move out incrementally doing jobs and artistic projects regionally and building a name for oneself essentially "putting in the time" so that the artist is awarded greater and greater opportunities. This is the path that Willyum Baulkey has taken through his photography, and this path currently culminates with "MUSE: A Willyum Photography Collection," currently on view at Wunderkammer through the end of November.

Baulkey attended Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and received a Visual Communication and Design (VCD) degree before more aggressively pursuing his dream of becoming a respected fashion photographer. Inspired by photographers like Herb Ritz, Steven Meisel, and David LaChapelle, and their use of strong figures, high contrast, and an unique combination of both classic and modern beauty, Baulkey's photography has the versatility and wide appeal to encompass everything from commercial portrait work and product photography, to work with the Miss Indiana Competition and Elkhart-based Cerulean Label, to high end editorial pieces. While continuing a visual language crafted over the years, which remains familiar among the now hundreds of shoots and thousands of images, Baulkey is working with locations as varied and intrinsically beautiful as an abandoned building, an idyllic rural landscape, or the bottom of a drained swimming pool. Baulkey represents a very important aspect of a healthy art scene, and something that is often overlooked, but can never been replaced; hard work. Baulkey's work ethic and consistent strive for excellence have taken his work from being good for student to interesting as an emerging artist, to a body of stunning images which are beginning to find their light and gain respect.

The references to David LaChapelle's work are particularly interesting because they are not as easy to trace in Baulkey's newer work, as they step into the background of Baulkey's complex visual language. While Baulkey's photoshoots include themes like the "Gaga Project," and "Goddesses and Gladiators," these tableaux vivant's are more academic recreation/representations than the hectic scenes riddled with "happy accidents" that LaChapelle is known for. On the other hand, Baulkey does follow LaChapelle's lead with keeping to a fun and flirty sexuality in his imagery, not one to shy away from skin, though never creating too raw of an image to mistake it for anything but an image of beauty and fashion.

Baulkey's work has grown, especially over the last few years, to encompass regular regional clients, taking him to work in Indianapolis and Elkhart. He is now working with more legitimate models and designers, including Project Runway designers and Marlene Haute Couture, which has been receiving more attention from the fashion world recently. Throughout this however, Baulkey continues to work with local models, like some of his muses, Amanda Lynn Veldkamp, Gabrielle Bradley, and Kourtney Freeman recently, and smaller local designers and retailers like Ofabz Swimwear, or our vintage clothing expert Cheryl Stano and her Rockin' Rubies Vintage Threads collection. This commitment for excellence and humble nature prove to be a winning combination, because Baulkey's work is beginning to make a true name for itself, as more projects keep coming, and his work is beginning to be published more consistently, and by larger name publications. Baulkey's work with Marlene Haute Couture has been seen in smaller publications like Indianapolis's "Pattern" magazine in their "Momentum" issue, which for its youth has been making waves of its own, and Pretty Living Magazine's Spring Issue with "Circus Freaks," a very successful editorial shoot depicting vaudevillian pseudo-fin-de-siecle performers in decrepit environments.

"Circus Freaks" proved to be a particularly successful shoot for Baulkey in that he worked with a model, LaShonda Reed, to produce a striking image entitled "One Ring," which depicts the model, in a decomposed jester ensemble, holding a large metal ring around her. This images strength alone is notable, but made more so by its publication by Italian Vogue in May 2013. This validation is immeasurable, and will likely provide Baulkey with many more opportunities regionally, nationally, and perhaps internationally. Hopefully Baulkey is taking advantage of this opportunity and pursuing the publication of his work more aggressively, as what is so often common in the fashion world (and the art world) that what is a currently vibrant trend can end up being scrapped only a short time later.

And so as we see talents like Baulkey's, and those he works with, grow incrementally followed with large jumps as their accomplishments begin to accumulate, we must ask ourselves as a local art scene what we can do to assist these artists in establishing, consolidating, and moving forward in careers. For every Baulkey there is an amazing sculptor, designer, writer working feverishly and feeling like they are going at it alone, until breaking through on their own. Imagine the heights they would be able to travel with only basic support at the local level.

"MUSE: A Willyum Photography Collection"
On view until Sunday, November 24
Wunderkammer Company

Also on View:
"Under/Over: Sub-culture to Pop"
"Grawlix: The #&@%ing Art of Frustration"
Curated by Josef Zimmerman
"Chris Schrein: Solo Vignette"

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