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October 11, 2016

Ben Baker photographs the world’s most powerful

Ben Baker's life of photographing the most powerful people in the world began with a childhood in Adelaide.

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  • Words: Farrin Foster
  • Pictures: Courtesy Ben Baker

Ben Baker has photographed some of the world’s most recognisable faces, capturing them in iconic images that ring with an immediate familiarity.

Tracing his path to standing, camera in hand, before Michelle and Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump and many more, takes him all the way back to a childhood spent between Adelaide and the Northern Territory.


As a kid, Ben would travel across outback Australia with his Dad, who worked for the Northern Territory Land Council mediating disputes and opening lines of communication in remote communities. Watching on, Ben became fascinated with learning about other people’s lives and worlds – something that still drives him in his work.

“I get to knock on people’s doors, go into their little worlds, ask a bunch of questions for my own learning curve, take pictures and leave,” says Ben. “And some of those lessons, what they talk about, it’s just amazing.”

Ben’s choice to explore this part of humanity through the medium of a camera also harks back to his early life in Adelaide, where he attended Christian Brothers College.

“It’s the classic story,” says Ben. “Decent high school teacher who actually gave a shit and was inspiring and didn’t give you the answers and made you figure it out yourself.

“And my best friend – he’s a really great DOP [Director of Photography], Andrew Commis, he’s from here. He’s really talented… we just worked off each other – making film and taking pictures.”


From his younger years in Adelaide, where he found work with several high-end photographers as an assistant, Ben then moved to Sydney to expand his horizons.

“If you’re in Detroit you’re shooting cars, in Adelaide you’re shooting wine bottles,” says Ben. “And I didn’t want to keep doing that, so I went to Sydney.”

After Sydney, Ben caught a very lucky break. While travelling in South America, he heard from a friend of a friend that there was an opportunity to assist in Annie Leibovitz’s photography studio.

The year or so Ben spent working with Annie led to him working with some of his other heroes, including Mary Ellen Mark and Mark Seliger. And from there, he began carving out a business of his own.

“It’s like any job in the world – you just need people to believe in you and a couple of editors said, you know – it’s going to take time but you’re going to be ok,” says Ben.

“And then you keep doing little things and then you get some really good calls and you keep going and after a while you stop and you sort of realise, I’m not a rookie any more.”


Now based between New York and Washington DC, Ben has a swag full of encounters with people who are so well known they seem almost mythical. From making Michelle and Barack Obama laugh as they suggested date night ideas for Ben and his wife, to the time Kanye West dropped in unexpected to a shoot, Ben’s stories would certainly make him a popular dinner party guest.

But far from being interested in the celebrity of his work, Ben is more concerned with its longevity.

“If you pick up a textbook or history book or something years from now and one of these pictures are in there, but I’m long gone, then that means something,” says Ben.

Back in Adelaide currently to shoot portraits and poster material for the in-production feature film Rabbit, Ben is excited to be working alongside family on his home turf.

“I am working with my sister Amy Baker who is the designer of the film,” he says. “Thats really why I came home, to get the chance to work with my sister for the first time after many years.”

While here, he is also working on a couple of his side projects – Conedogs and a series portraying his Mum – that demonstrate his range and interests beyond photographing well known faces.


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