Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

Remembering Fred Baldwin Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

23 December 2021

Fred Baldwin, whose camera documented wildlife, the civil rights movement and poverty in America and who founded Houston's FotoFest with his wife Wendy Watriss, died earlier this month of heart failure in Houston. He was 92.

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, the son of a U.S. diplomat, he grew up in a series of boarding schools after his father died when he was five.

He dropped out of the University of Virginia as a freshman, working in the ice factory his mother owned where he quickly appreciated the "privilege that my race and class had provided me."

He packed a camera while serving as a Marine rifleman in the Korean War, received two Purple Hearts and surviving the 17-day Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950. His unit was photographed by David Douglas Duncan, shooting for Life magazine.

In 1956, he graduated from Columbia University. As a student at Columbia, he determined to meet, photograph and interview his favorite artist, Pablo Picasso. He was repeatedly rebuffed at the artist's villa in the South of France before he wrote a whimsical note he illustrated himself and was invited to in.

His portraits of Picasso launched his career.

'The arts is about the ability to learn from each other's experiences and Fred embodied that.'

He photographed Sami reindeer herders in Sweden and Norway, polar bears at the North Pole and marlin off Mexico. His images graced the pages of Sports Illustrated, Esquire and National Geographic.

"What was magical for me was that a little tiny camera could serve as a passport to the world, as a key to opening every lock and every cupboard of investigation and curiosity," Baldwin wrote in his memoir.

He married Monica Legerstedt in 1961 and the couple had two sons before divorcing in 1969.

In 1963 he happened across a civil rights march in Savannah, Ga. The event left such an impression on him that he volunteered to work with the Chatham County Crusade for Voters. "For the first time, I documented simply and directly what I saw, irrespective of its value as a career boost," he wrote.

He worked as a Peace Corps director in Malaysia from 1964 to 1966 before returning to Savannah where he documented the conditions of poor whites in Georgia and South Carolina.

In 1970 he met Watriss, who was a young journalist, at a cocktail party given by an Italian duchess in her Manhattan apartment. The two would be inseparable until his death, even signing both names to their photographs regardless of who pushed the button.

In 1971 they drove across the country with a small trailer, photographing and writing about rural America. The Briscoe Center for the Study of American History at the University of Texas, Austin, houses the hundreds of hours of oral histories they recorded in Grimes County, Texas.

The couple afterwards photographed German American and Polish American farmers, Spanish-speaking ranchers and a Black rodeo in Texas.

In 1986, Baldwin and Watriss founded FotoFest in Houston. FotoFest's mission was "to bring together a global vision of art and cross-cultural exchange with a commitment to social issues."

The couple traveled over 100,000 miles a year for three decades to bring together photographers, curators, editors and collectors, launching other photo festivals as well as exhibiting their finds at FotoFest.

"He cared about different viewpoints. Even though he might not have fully understood them, he was always open to them and he was prepared to learn," British curator Mark Sealy, who Baldwin commissioned to curate a show of 30 African artists at FotoFest last year, remembered. "And that's all we've ever asked for. The arts is about the ability to learn from each other's experiences and Fred embodied that."

His memoir Dear Mr. Picasso: An Illustrated Love Affair With Freedom was published in 2019.

BackBack to Photo Corners