Frederick C. Baldwin, a photographer passionate about storytelling, died at 92


Frederick Baldwin, a photographer who documented American wildlife, civil rights movement and poverty and helped promote other photographers in Latin America, Africa and Asia, died Dec. 1 in Houston. He was 92 years old.

His wife and collaborator, Wendy Watriss, said the cause was heart failure.

Mr. Baldwin displayed extraordinary physical courage as a photographer and a deep empathy that brought him into the lives of the people he documented. He carried a camera while serving as a Marines in the Korean War, received two Purple Hearts, and survived the brutal 17-day battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950. His unit was photographed by David Douglas Duncan of Life magazine, which influenced Mr. Baldwin. in his career path.

In the 1950s and early 1960s he photographed Sami reindeer herders in Sweden and Norway, polar bears near the North Pole, and marlins in the waters off Mexico for Sports Illustrated, Esquire and National Geographic .

“What was magical to me was that a tiny tiny camera could serve as a passport to the world, a key to open every lock and every closet of inquiry and curiosity,” Mr Baldwin said in a commentary. interview with the New York Times in 2019. “It was also a way of taking me to places and situations that would provide me with good stories to tell. “

Mr. Baldwin was known as a master storyteller, but he realized that his early work was primarily intended to satisfy his ego, as he noted in “Dear Mr. Picasso: An Illustrated Love Affair With Freedom”, a memoir published in 2019. This approach changed in 1963 after a chance encounter with a local civil rights march in Savannah, Georgia. Witnessing the march led him to volunteer to work with the Chatham County Crusade for Voters, led by Hosea Williams, a close associate of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

“I found myself acting not only as a recorder, but as a person tied to events to be of service far beyond my past existence or immediate experience,” he wrote. “For the first time, I documented what I saw simply and directly, regardless of its value as a career booster. “

After photographing Dr King in Savannah, Mr Baldwin was director of the Peace Corps in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo in Malaysia, from 1964 to 1966. Returning to Savannah, he documented hunger and malnutrition among the poor whites in Georgia and South Carolina; these images were presented to Senator George S. McGovern’s Special Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1968.

Some of Mr. Baldwin’s most important work has been done in partnership with Ms. Watriss, an award-winning photographer and writer for her own photography whose books include “Image and Memory: Photography From Latin America, 1866-1994 », Which she edited with Lois Parkinson Zamor. In a 2012 interview with The Times, Mr Baldwin and Ms Watriss recounted meeting in 1970 at a cocktail party given by an Italian Duchess at her Manhattan apartment, which sparked what he called ” a scorching affair “. (She shrugged and said, “It was the end of the sixties.”)

After five months, she left for Europe to work as a freelance journalist. He took up yoga. The following year, she said, he wooed her and the two have worked and lived together ever since – although they didn’t get married until 2002, and only in response to a last wish from her. brother, Robert Gamble Baldwin.

In 1971, Mr. Baldwin and Mrs. Watriss crossed the country, pulling a tiny trailer, to photograph and write about rural America. They parked their trailer on the land of Willie Buchanan, a black farmer from Grimes County, Texas; lived there a year and a half; and is part of the fabric of the community. Together, they took photographs and recorded hundreds of hours of oral history there, which are now housed in the Briscoe Center for the Study of American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Each photo carried their two credits, “regardless of who pressed the button,” noted Anne Tucker, former curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. “They did everything together.

In the following years, they also photographed German-American and Polish-American farmers, Spanish-speaking ranchers, and a black rodeo, all in Texas.

Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Watriss were co-founders of FotoFest in Houston, an arts organization dedicated to photography which held its first biennial exhibition in 1986. At the time, most museum curators in the United States and Europe believed that there were few photographers doing important work in Latin America, Africa and Asia. For three decades, the couple have traveled more than 100,000 miles a year to find and connect photographers, curators, publishers and collectors, while helping launch dozens of photo festivals around the world. They brought many photographers and their work back to Houston for the FotoFest.

As the exhibitions and the portfolio review that accompanies them have grown in scale and international stature, FotoFest has become “an extension of the values ​​and attitudes we have brought to our photography,” said Mrs. Watriss.

Frederick Colburn Baldwin was born January 25, 1929 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to Margaret (Gamble) Baldwin and Frederick William Baldwin, who served there as a career foreign service officer of the US State Department. After becoming consul general in Havana, the eldest Mr Baldwin died and his then 5-year-old son was sent to the first of a series of boarding schools, several of which were expelled.

After dropping out of the University of Virginia after his freshman year, Mr Baldwin worked in an ice factory owned by his mother’s family, alongside poorly paid black and white workers. It was there, he said, that he began to understand the “privilege that my race and my class had given me.”

Mr. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University in 1956. He married Monica Lagerstedt in 1961. They had two sons, Frederick and Charles, and divorced in 1969.

Besides Mrs. Watriss, Mr. Baldwin is survived by his sons and a granddaughter. He lived in Houston.

In his memoir, Mr. Baldwin recounted how, as a student at Columbia, he decided he needed to meet, photograph and interview his favorite artist and “imaginary father figure,” Pablo Picasso. He knocks on the door of the artist’s villa in the south of France and is repeatedly refused. After two nights of sleeping in his car, he wrote a fancy note with his own illustrations and hand delivered it to Picasso’s house. This time he was invited to enter.

The meeting led Mr. Baldwin to a “Picasso mantra” as a road map for future success.

“I had a dream,” he writes, “I used my imagination, I overcame my fear and I took action.


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