"I find that students are expected to be recepticles and
professors just to pour in all of the knowledge."
track event were not good
enough to do anything with,
but armed with his new press
credentials he returned to the
Swedish foreign office and secured a pass to Lappland.
He went and photographed
the Lapps, then returned to
Stockholm to find that, once
again, he had taken bad pictures. He went back to the foreign office with a tragic story of
a broken camera and secured
another pass for the journey
north. This time he got some
good pictures. He sent them to
an agent he knew in New York,
and she soon wrote back saying
that she had just sold the photos to Sports Illustrated. Baldwin had accomplished his first
major magazine breakthrough.
The next big event that Baldwin was able to talk his way
into despite a lack of proper
credentials, was a royal party
thrown for Nobel laureates at
the Stockholm city hall. After
just barely getting in, Baldwin
ended up chatting with the
King of Sweden as the press
attache from the American embassy followed close behind
carrying his camera equipment.
He next went to Norway to
shoot pictures of the codfishing
industry for the National Geographic. At least that's what he
told the fishermen. At the time,
the Geographic had probably
never heard of Fred Baldwin,
and they certainly had not sent
him to photograph codfish. But
there he was, above the Arctic
Circle, in the Lofoten Islands.
It was there Baldwin met an
old newspaper writer who had
been a resistance fighter in the
war. Jokingly, the newswriter
suggested that Baldwin get into
the water and photograph cod-
fishing from the point of view
of the codfish.
Baldwin thought it was a
great idea. Before he was
through, he had enlisted the aid
of the Norwegian Navy which
sent him off on a destroyer with
a diving team to produce a story which eventually was published by the National Geographic.
Baldwin quickly developed a
reputation with the magazine
industry as a man who could
get the job done, whether it was
photgraphing gypsies in the
south of France or leading an
arctic polar bear expedition for
We paused to give the waiter
room to clear our table and
then Baldwin started telling me
about the "serious work" that
he had done. In 1962 he became
involved in the Civil Rights
Movement, as a photographer,
fundraiser, and organizer. In
1964 he accepted a position as
Peace Corp director in Borneo.
After spending two years there,
Baldwin decided that administrative work was not for him
and returned to his former role
as a photographer. He photographed in India, Afghanistan,
Thailand and the Far East, and
then returning to the U.S., began doing commercial advertising assignments for resorts.
As I sucked on my last ice
cube, Baldwin told me how he
used his photographs to help a
doctor raise $600,000 to build a
clinic in a poverty stricken area
of South Carolina. Clearly it is
this type of work that he is most
proud of. His interest has
turned more and more away
from what he calls "superficial
magazine projects", and toward
serious documentary work.
In 1972 he focused on Texas
and produced a body of work
that brought his him first major
art exhibition at the Philips Collection in Washington, D.C.
In 1975 Baldwin started
teaching documentary photography at the University of Texas, and in 1981 came to the
University of Houston.
In Houston, Baldwin put together the largest photo festival
in the western hemisphere.
Dubbed Fotofest, it debuted in
1986 and Baldwin is currently
raising funds for the next festival in 1988. This year he has
raised three quarters of a million
dollars and he expects the figure
to be one million by year's end.
The lunch crowd was start-
ing to thin out as we took up
the topic of education.
"In my teaching," Baldwin
said, "I want people to speak
out and come up with their own
opinions. If I think their reasoning is stupid, then I'll argue with
them. But I don't expect them
to agree with me. I expect them
to think for themselves, and I
don't find our education conducive to that kind of approach.
I find that students are expected
to be recepticles and professors
just to pour in all of the knowledge. I just find that ridiculous."
Baldwin paused for a moment. He looked at his watch.
"Oh my god, We're late for
- Dan Alder
From the first time he sends a
student to take a picture of the
thing they are most afraid of
(usually a policeman), Fred
Baldwin's teaching methods
utilize bold notions and far out
ideas as a means for overcoming obstacles. Most students
tend to wonder if it is possible,
in this day and age, to set out to
accomplish something the way
Fred did in his younger days.
They say, the world was different then. But ocassionaly one of
his students takes a giant step
toward doing something they
really want to do, with courage
they probably couldn't get from
anyone but Fred Baldwin.