XI. BigTown Blog: Erik Baier, "Commune"

Erik Baier (right), from opening reception of "Commune" exhibition.

Why would Erik Baier load a backpack with 60 pounds of camera equipment and set off on a muddy track, uphill, in 90-degree weather, not knowing the way, whom he’d meet, and, heavens, whether the folks would be friendly? And sometimes they weren’t; the first man whose door Erik knocked on, told him to get the f--- off his property.

Erik obeyed, with alacrity, but this rude man’s house—a dome—had set off a bell in Erik’s head that he couldn’t ignore, and a journey, or several journeys, to find and photograph these odd, homemade, low-cost, sometimes makeshift dwellings built by people in live in communes. What he found, and took pictures of, was a varied conglomeration of structures, from tarps tacked to trees, to huts intricately woven of sticks, to gigantic, dirt-stuffed earthships.

Thus the heavy backpack, the trekking, and the unpredicatable company. But it seems that for Erik, whose undaunted courage and intrepid persistence resulted in stunning, black and white photographs, the project was more than artistic. As he described in his fascinating talk in the projects gallery at BigTown last Sunday, Erik was insatiably curious about communal life, asking himself, where are the communes of the 2010s located? Who lives in them? What are their reasons for being? What does communal life say, and does it speak to me?

The photographs themselves help answer these questions. Taken with a 4x5” view camera, the large photos glow with light and shadow, texture and line, and a loving attention to detail. The structures are solitary—no people show in these eerie pictures, as if the settlements had been abandoned and the structures left behind as the only evidence of human life. A kind of yearning haunts these scenes, hope for a new life, or escape from an old one, a temporary approach to living, a minimalist, close-to-the-earth existence, a simple dream of living in common in order to help each other, to reduce consumption, to share. In some places, Erik says, the dream is not working, in others it’s still a struggle, but in all Erik found humans trying to make a go of it in a complicated world.

Maybe the photos of commune members will come next, and maybe a text. But until then, stop by to view Erik Baier’s handsome photographs of places you will probably never see for yourself.