Paul Baker Prindle
Photographer Paul Baker Prindle was on a bus one day in Philadelphia when a woman asked what he was doing. He said he was out taking pictures. The woman looked at him and said he was going to get killed in the process. Concerned for his safety, the woman escorted him to his destination, where he took photos, and then safely brought him back to the bus. Baker Prindle said he didn’t care if death had been a possibility. He’d almost died once after a large motorcycle struck him in Rome when he was 21. To him, it was plain and simple—somebody had to go out to dangerous neighborhoods across the country and take pictures of where gay, lesbian and transgender people had been murdered.
“I think trauma and loss has really defined what it means to be gay,” said Baker Prindle, who came into his own identity during the peak of the AIDS epidemic.
For 10 years, he’s documented these locations across the country—places where people have been gruesomely murdered because of their sexual orientations.
He’s captured each scene exactly the way he saw it. When you look at these images, the photos are rather plain. There are no people, no memorials, and no signs that a death even occurred. They just look like average houses and neighborhoods.
“I don’t change anything,” said Baker Prindle. “If there’s garbage, I leave it. … It should feel like it does if you were to stumble upon it at anytime. You see this boring, everyday object, then you read the title and go, ’Woah.’ It feels dissonant.”
He said he’s not only addressing the epidemic of the tens of thousands of LGBT people who have been assaulted or murdered, but he’s also looking at the viewers’ relationship to photos.
“That’s kind of what photographs are—it is so much of what you bring to them,” he said.
Several of his large-scale photos are on exhibit at the OXS Gallery in Carson City this month. Baker Prindle said that the reason he printed them large is so that viewers become a part of the scene, in a way.
“The viewer brings their biases, their perspectives, their prejudices, their ideas of how this went down, and they have to imagine it,” he said. “I think that’s just the critical thing, is that the viewer is, I think, even more important than the image, in that what they’re doing with it tells us so much about our relationship to this phenomenon and also our relationship to photographs.”
He also likes to look at how photographs work and how they serve as devices to help us remember certain moments. On one hand, he said, photos are just pixels on a piece of paper. On another hand, what we do with photos is important to us—we associate them with our stories and histories.
“To me, every photograph is a reminder of death because it’s a record of a moment that will never live again,” said Baker Prindle.
His current challenge, he said, is that he doesn’t know if he should continue this project, and, if so, for how long—or if he wants to be known as the guy who spent his career doing this. But he knows that, one way or another, he wants to see to it that people stay engaged in conversations about how powerful images can be.