HOUSTON, TX.- The life of Fred Baldwin (b 1929), the celebrated American photographer and co-founder of FotoFest (Houston), took a turn in the direction of the extraordinary when during his last year of college in 1955 he decided to interview and photograph Pablo Picasso. Despite the fact he had no formal art training, contacts, or reason to expect success, Baldwin delivered a letter with his own drawings to the artist that he hoped would appeal to his sense of humor. After a three-day siege outside Picasso's house in Cannes, the artist finally opened the door to Baldwin who was allowed to take pictures freely in his studio.
The Picasso experience changed Baldwin's life dramatically and emboldened him to embark on the peripatetic life of a photojournalist. Accompanied by his Leica, he would spend the next 20 years making remarkable picture stories about people and places, taking him to extreme adventure, and at times, great personal risk. His camera would become his passport to the world and provide the material and inspiration for Dear Mr. Picasso: An Illustrated Love Affair with Freedom (Schilt Publishing) which will be released in the U.S. this summer with an author talk and book signing at The Menil Collection in Houston on August 29.
The book's over 700 pages are illustrated by hundreds of black and white and color photographs. We witness reindeer migrations in Lapland, a day and a night with the Ku Klux Klan, coverage of a star-studded Nobel Prize ceremony, cod fishing in Arctic Norway, polar bear expeditions near the North Pole, and underwater images of a hooked Marlin fighting for its life in Mexico -- an homage to Hemingway. In 1963, Baldwin documented the Civil Rights Movement working for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s organization as a freelance photographer. A two-year stint as Peace Corps director in Borneo followed by more photojournalism work in India and Afghanistan.
Dear Mr. Picasso reveals Baldwin's brilliance at storytelling. The tome is often laced with his self-deprecating humor, a mechanism that Baldwin had developed early as a survival tool. His father, an American diplomat, died when Baldwin was five. In the book's early chapters Baldwin describes his difficult childhood and youth which involved academic disasters and his exile to work in a factory in Savannah run by his absentee landlord uncle where he joined and was befriended by low-paid black and white workers. Baldwin escaped the factory by joining the Marines and was immediately shipped to North Korea in 1950 where he was wounded and decorated twice.
The photographs in the last two chapters of Dear Mr. Picasso titled "Wendy Watriss, The Future" and "Going Forward" are by Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss, an American photographer, curator and writer; they have worked together for over 50 years. Their first intense collaboration was a fifteen year project on rural Texas as a microcosm of U.S. history. Their imagery documents churches, farms and families, as well as the racial and social tensions of the times.
Fred Baldwin was born in 1929 in Switzerland. After earning his B.A. degree from Columbia College, New York in 1956, he began a freelance photography career which continued until 1987. Baldwin worked for LIFE, National Geographic, GEO, STERN, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian Magazine, Newsweek, the New York Times and others. In 2008 Freedom's March on the Civil Rights Movement was published in conjunction with an exhibit of his photographs taken in 1963-1964, at the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia. In 2009 Looking at the US 1957-1986 was published by Mets & Schilt Publishers, Amsterdam, in conjunction with Wendy Watriss and with an exhibit of their collaborative work at Le Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi, Belgium. In 2013 The Center for Photography at Woodstock awarded Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss the Lifetime achievement Award for their work in photography. Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss co-founded FotoFest in 1983 with Petra Benteler. Baldwin and Watriss have built and managed FotoFest for the past 35 years.