Frederick C. Baldwin, co-founder of Houston FotoFest, known for championing the “big picture” of photography

Frederick C. Baldwin, the highly regarded and famous photographer and collector known for co-founding Houston FotoFest, the largest photography festival in the United States, passed away suddenly on December 15 at the age of 92.

In 1955, when 26-year-old Baldwin was barely a photographer, he managed to find his way into Pablo Picasso’s southern French home while on vacation in the region. The portraits that the young Chancellor made of the famous artist launched Baldwin’s photographic career, a career that spanned the Arctic, Afghanistan, India and, most importantly, the civil rights movement in the southern hemisphere. United States.

But Baldwin, who was called Fred, will be remembered mainly for the photography festival he founded with his surviving wife Wendy Watriss in Houston, Texas, in 1986, and which is today considered one of the the most important photographic exchanges in the world.

Mark Sealy, the influential British conservative and director of London’s Autograph ABP agency, was commissioned by Baldwin to organize African cosmologies: photography, time and the other, a show featuring more than 30 African artists, during the 18th edition of the Fotofest in March 2020.

Sealy remembers Baldwin as a “shining example of generosity.”

“When you first met Fred and Wendy, you were struck by their real openness,” Sealy said. The arts journal. “And they were open at a time when a lot of cultural organizations around the world just weren’t. They really believed in providing space for different types of photography. This is what drove them.

Fotofest, Sealy notes, often offered funding and exposure opportunities to black British photographers who did not have comparable opportunities at home in the UK.

“They gave black British photographers a very important platform very early in the game,” Sealy said. “It was a transformation for us. “

Baldwin then used Fotofest as a platform for minority photographic art decades before it became a mainstream business. “When you first met Fred, you thought, ‘Oh my god, big guy, gruff American, here we are,’ Sealy said. “But underneath was a real example of the politics of care.”

“He cared about different points of view. Even though he might not have fully understood them, he was still open to them and he was ready to learn, ”Sealy says. “And that’s all we asked for. The arts is the ability to learn from one another’s experiences, and Fred embodied it.

Baldwin’s generosity to overseas photographers, who had yet to make their name, is a recurring testament to his character. Shahidul Alam, the famous Bangladeshi photographer who has worked closely with Fotofest, remembers meeting Fred and Wendy on his first visit to the United States.

“I had never met them before,” says Alam. “There was no reason they knew me. I made a cold call and arrived in Houston. Not only was I received with wonderful warmth. They fed me, showed me around Fotofest and offered me their sofa to sleep on. I was used to such hospitality for foreigners in Bangladesh. I didn’t expect it in the USA. We’ve been friends ever since. “

Son of an American diplomat, Baldwin was born privileged in Switzerland in 1929. He lived an itinerant youth, moving constantly from one country to another, first in pursuit of his father’s work and then, after his father’s death as Baldwin five, as he attempted to seek his place among the homes of family, friends and schools to which he was sent and from which he was expelled in various ways. The uprooting of his childhood pushes him to rebel and he initially fails in his studies.

Not knowing what to do with himself, Baldwin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was deployed to serve during the Korean War in the United States, where he was awarded two Purple Hearts and where he took some of his early photographs.

In his 2019 memoirs, Dear Mr. Picasso: An illustrated love story with freedom, Baldwin recalls the years after Picasso’s filming, during which, on expeditions with his camera, he photographed Sami reindeer herders in the Lapland region of northern Europe, as well as the great tundras of the Arctic.

“What was magical to me was that a tiny tiny camera could serve as a passport to the world, a key to open every lock and every closet of inquiry and curiosity,” Baldwin wrote of the discovery of the power of photography.

Baldwin eventually returned to the United States and settled in Savannah, Georgia, in the southern United States, where he married his first wife, Monica. He recalls in his memoirs the horrific impact of witnessing a Ku Klux Klan rally in Alabama in 1957, before then immersing himself in the civil rights movement. He met Hosea Williams, a civil rights leader and ordained minister who was close to Martin Luther King Jr. and began attending and photographing meetings of Chatham County Crusade activists for Williams voters. This period of training led Baldwin to begin to view photography as a tool of social use rather than a reductive way of expressing his own personal experiences. He has learned to remove the ego from his job.

In his memoir, he writes: “Economic discrimination was nothing new to me, nor was segregation or class division, but the difference was that I became intimate with these realities in a totally way. news. And I was taking photographs in a new way – for a cause, a cause that I knew was right.

He met Watriss, then a young journalist, in 1970 in New York. Less than a year after they met, they had embarked on the age-old road trip across America; he would photograph the continent beyond, she would write down what they would discover and who they would discover. The couple quickly married and founded Fotofest in Houston in 1986, three years after attending the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in the south of France.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Baldwin said the festival was founded as “an act of anger” – a reaction to the way the medium of photography, and in particular the photography of events and experiences beyond the mainstream of the American life, was so systematically ignored by the established order of art. world. The founding mission of Fotofest, from its creation to the present day, was to “bring together a global vision of art and intercultural exchanges with a commitment to social issues”. The festival struck a chord and quickly gained stature and fame. Today, it is firmly established as one of the major photographic exchanges in the world.

Baldwin’s interest in the thoroughness of hosting the festival has never wavered, according to British photo book publisher Dewi Lewis. “At every Fotofest I’ve attended for the past 25 years or so, Fred has always been there, always a pleasure to meet and talk, always someone who has lit the room,” says Lewis. “He had a warmth and a spirit that could charm anyone, but it often hid the extent of his own accomplishments and his more serious side as a photographer, author, educator and social activist.”

Baldwin is survived by Watriss; sons Grattan Baldwin and Breck Baldwin; her granddaughter Anika Baldwin and her sister-in-law Judith M. Baldwin.

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