Ben Baker gets amazing shots by pretending to flash people—then giving them another kind of flash.
Ben is an NYC-based photographer who typically focuses his camera on politicians and celebrities. Every Halloween, however, he takes a break from his usual gig and dons a flasher costume he gets a reprieve from his everyday subject matter. For years, Baker has been donning a "flasher" costume—trenchcoat and all—and taking snaps of unsuspecting, drunk, Halloweenies in NYC. This stunt results in some people who are expecting to face nudity but instead find themselves looking a camera in the face. In honor of the holiday, Baker was kind enough to share some selects from Halloweens past and his motivations for the project.
VICE: Why do you flash?
Ben Baker: I carry a camera with me everywhere I go. I love Halloween and the flasher was the perfect way for me to shoot the night, like I would anyway, in character and really engage with people. It's no secret that NYC is filled with characters on any given day and that on Halloween it's like those same characters are on ten.
What's your camera situation in there?
It's pretty big... No, seriously, it's the heaviest camera that Canon makes, the same model that most war photographers use out in the field. I connect a cable from the camera through the sleeve of my coat and take the pictures with the cable release in my hand.
What has been one of your favorite reactions and has anyone caused you bodily harm?
I get the best reactions. People are usually a little shocked or confused at first, especially if I'm really close to them, but in the end, they're usually amused. I love it when people are offended and think I'm actually about to flash them! What I don't do is flash groups of really drunk guys, because that can get pretty ugly. I once flashed a couple of cops on Christopher Street. One laughed and the other called me a pervert and told me to get lost. I did what I was told because I definitely didn't want to end up at Rikers in that outfit.
What makes Halloween in the city so chaotic?
New York is naturally chaotic. But on Halloween, everything is turned up a notch and for someone like me who's trying to capture the times, it's the best night of the year. The scary days are over in NYC, but the scariest thing I've encountered on Halloween in recent years has to be the classic old guy or gal in serious S&M gear that they wear all year round.
In your other work you're very much a studio photographer, what's special about catching people in that in between moment?
I am usually in a suit and tie photographing presidents and billionaires for magazine covers, where I'm trying to create and capture an unguarded moment while nervous staff are in the background trying to keep everything sanitized and run by the clock. With this project I can let all that go and shoot as someone else, it just happens to be 3 AM in the bathroom of a club and I'm literally shooting from the hip.
Would you ever spend the evening actually flashing?
Why, what have you heard?
Who are some of your favorite street photographers?
Diane Arbus for her humanity, Bruce Davidson for the truth, and Winogrand and William Klein for cool. But this project I have to give respect to Weegee, the ultimate New York City street photographer.