Skin Deep: Danny Baldwin in conversation with Dr. Diego Giolitti
News – 20 March 2017
Dr. Diego Giolitti speaks with Danny Baldwin about his upcoming exhibition Skin Deep, which is to be exhibited at ContiniArtUK from 7th – 14th April 2017. The conversation looks at how Danny was first introduced to photography, the inspiration for his project and the concept behind Skin Deep.
Diego: How would you describe yourself as a photographer?
Danny: I certainly consider myself as a risk taker. I like to challenge the status quo. Within my work there is definitely a focus on movement and trying to take people out of their comfort zone. In regards to Skin Deep I took the notion of tattooed models and altered each portrait so that it was the tattoos that were the focus.
How were you introduced into photography as a career?
When I came back to the UK from travelling in Mexico I applied for a photography course in Cheshire, as it was the only thing I hadn’t attempted up to that point. I had always done creative things whilst growing up such as drama and music, so I knew I had a creative side to me but I couldn’t draw and didn’t have the desire to pursue acting or singing.
Throughout my 2 years of study at college I was taught the fundamentals of photography and learnt using a traditional film camera, however most of my work is now digital. I found that photography was an outlet to express myself artistically, it was new and challenging, and linked all the things that I enjoyed together. I soon realised that I wanted to start a career in fashion photography, as I wasn’t necessarily interested in shooting just a building or still life. I always imagined each location as a backdrop for a fashion shoot. That was the only way I could do it, fashion photography resonated with me on a personal level and was my motivation throughout college. So when I graduated, I decided to attend London College of Fashion to fulfil my ambitions as a fashion photographer.
I can definitely see all these elements you are describing embedded in the project. Why did you choose to call the project Skin Deep?
I was always so frustrated at always working to a client brief and not just being able to have creative control. One evening before I was about to go to bed, I was looking at my own tattoos as I had another tattoo appointment the next day and then at a picture of a model that I shot in my room, and then everything just started to fit together. I realised that everything I was creating was related and it was all about skin. I felt an innate desire to show the versatility and beauty of tattoos beyond the surface. Skin Deep felt like a suitable name to unite my idea and my creative impulses. It was certainly an epiphany moment, I was provided with a clear direction and had to follow it. It’s not until you have such a deep realisation that everything falls into place and you just start your own artistic journey. Ultimately, that is how the artistic process begins; you have to be capable to actually translate your own realisation into reality.
When I saw the pictures, the thing I liked the most is that they were not just beautiful pictures but they were telling a story, and this is what art is all about. In your opinion, what would you say the main differences are between your photographs in Skin Deep compared to a fashion magazine editorial?
I think that it was all so personal. The models I chose are come from a range of ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. The only thing I wanted for them to have in common was their inked skin. Naturally when you ask someone to be nude in front of a camera their whole personality will change. Skin Deep was about the resistance between, how much somebody was going to give me of their true self through their expressions when they’re nude.
Models can be portrayed in various ways in editorial shoots and it will change the final product once you strip the fashion away from it. Even if I have a certain pose in mind for a layout, it is ultimately the models that decide what they are willing to express when they are in such an exposed position. That is what was really important for me in this project; I wanted to separate myself from my previous work as fashion photographer to impartial photographer. It is because of this separation that vulnerability became a distinct theme in the project. I found this really interesting because when I imagined the project at the beginning, I imagined the models being masculine, strong and powerful beings. But looking at some of the photographs, a lot of the models look vulnerable or even timid. Skin Deep reveals the delicate balance of both sides to a man, which I consider a very significant feature.
When we started to discuss the project, you said something that caught my attention right away, all of the models are professional and have never before allowed anyone to photograph them naked in this way. So you’d be the first one that they allow to do so?
A few of the models that were part of the project started in the fashion industry when tattoos were either hidden or not approved of. I’ve always disagreed with using tattoos in a gimmicky manner, where perhaps a well-groomed tattooed model was put in a suit on Savile Row but was made to conceal most of their tattoos. Photographers weren’t capitalising on who these models actually were and their individuality. With Skin Deep I wanted to explore how tattoos act as window into our souls and illustrate who we are beneath the skin.
I think it’s really important that we steer away from the commercial and the generic. We need to stay true to the art form of tattooing as a means of self-expression and identity. And this is what I wanted to represent to the audience. The models chosen were already adorned in tattoos before covering them in designer clothing. As I’ve mainly operated within the confines of fashion and editorial briefs it was truly fascinating to strip everything back to the individual and say ‘how do I make this person interesting without clothes?’ and the answer was, they already were.
There is a one particular picture that I was drawn to and it was of this very masculine looking boy with a beautiful but very simple tattoo, it’s a cross and on the cross it says ‘Mum & Dad’. When I saw that, I went back to look at the face of the model and I looked at him in a completely different way.
Whether people instantly recognise your work or not, it is vital to have an emotional presence within it. We don’t necessarily know why in that exact moment why we press the shutter, it is something that either triggers inside of you, physically, mentally or emotionally. I’m definitely an emotional photographer and I have developed this during the project to represent the real soul of the models who helped make it my vision a reality.
What I loved the most is the concept of diversity in your work. Here diversity has been translated into models that are not only in their twenties but also up to their fifties and even in terms of ethnicity and beauty in the project.
It was important to me, especially because of the scale of the project, to ensure that I displayed that real beauty is connected to the soul and to encourage acceptance beyond our skin. What is always risky when you shoot a model nude, is the jeopardy of the portraits being sexualised. Perhaps with some of the photographs each viewer will inevitably find a sexual preference to a specific model, but as a body of work, it is not about sex. It’s about the body, it’s about emotion, it’s about the person, and the context of acceptance. As a photographer I was depicting the concept of expression rather than a sexual, cheap thrill of men in the nude. I didn’t want to exploit the concept of sex at all, because to me these portraits aren’t sexual.
I’m glad you say that, because I find your photographs extremely refined, intense and raw. To be honest with you, there is another aspect of the project I particularly like. There is not just the beauty of anatomy but also the tattoos. But in the meantime it’s very frustrating, because you don’t know the story behind these tattoos.
That’s the beauty of tattoos. And that’s why they are somewhat used as the fashion aspect within the project. As someone who has tattoos, it was necessary to portray something true and authentic. And I think if you follow that path, you can create something that has not been done before. I was quite shocked by this project as the more I got into it, the more I realised no one had done anything contextually similar. It’s not enough just to take pictures of beautiful models with tattoos; it’s how and why you do it. There is an incredible emotional and distinctive journey behind each model’s decision to have a tattoo and what it represents. I felt compelled to celebrate these models and the slow acceptance of the ‘tattooed model’ in the fashion industry.
When I first saw the project, I felt as if you were depicting this celebration of each model in a very delicate but powerful way.
There is always a mix of that in my work, a delicate power. I think your work has to come from you as a person. And that’s how I am, I’m quite delicate but we also all have a certain power inside us. It’s about being able to create a subtle balance between respect and refinement. It’s not about trying to shock, it’s about trying to communicate and that can be an incredibly hard thing to do. But you’ve got to be true to yourself and the concept that you are trying to show in order for your message to be understood.
And after this project, what’s next?
I definitely want to pursue work in portraiture, perhaps in the context of music or individual personalities. It’s definitely about the emotional aspect for me. My life has been about experimenting and pushing myself forward to find the artist within and there are still many different paths for me to explore.
I want to let everyone know that you made far more pictures than what is shown in your upcoming exhibition, but of course we would not be able to exhibit all of them. So we had to make a selection and this selection is based on trying to represent the real soul of the project. We did our best, but there is much more to discover! Is there anything you feel that the audience who see your pictures need to know?
I want the audience to be able to draw from their own emotions when they see the exhibition. I don’t necessarily want to dictate what the audience should look for or what they should be observing in my photographs. I believe that if the audience connects to it they will be able to find the message I’m trying to convey. I encourage anyone who engages with the project on a conceptual or emotional level to let me know via Twitter or Instagram.