Artists I Matched On Tinder: M.A. Baratta

BY SCARLETT MCCARTHY

PHOTOS COURTESY OF M.A. BARATTA

 

I like artists better in pairs. From F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda to Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, I have idealized the artistic couple since early on in my teenage years. 

It’s not just me. As Lena Dunham’s character explained to her boyfriend in the Girls season three finale, “we can be one of those artist couples who are doing different things in different rooms and they call to each other and say ‘Look at what I’m doing!’ Of course it isn’t that simple to have this kind of relationship, it requires a commitment to my writing that I haven’t yet established on my own. 

My desire to be a part of an artist couple inspired me to seek out artists on the popular dating and hook up app Tinder. I wanted to know if men felt this way too and if, just talking about our art could lead to a greater level of attraction.

Over the next month I asked different artists I found on Tinder to an interview date. The only real rules I set up for myself were that I had to be attracted to them and I had to like their work as well. The first person to say “yes” was photographer M.A. Baratta. He was excited about the project and asked if I’d be interested in going to The Last Bookstore with him. Suddenly, I was nervous. I had been meaning to visit the Downtown L.A. spot for years and his asking me there felt more than coincidental. It felt like the kind of thing I could idealize.  

On the day of our date I became overcome with shyness. In the place of our scheduled interview we ended up talking on a bench for two hours and I promised to email him questions later that night. After, as I drove the freeway home, I called my best friend and shouted into the speakerphone, “I liked him! I actually liked him.” 

 
M.A. Baratta

M.A. Baratta

 

What inspired you to make a Tinder account? Is this the first time you’ve met up with someone you met on Tinder? 

I started using Tinder when I was living in San Francisco last year. I was in a polyamorous open relationship with a woman at the time and I wanted to meet new people and potential sexual partners. I don’t like meeting women on the Internet, but it seems to be the thing all the kids are doing these days instead of meeting in person like the good ol’ days.

We were matched on Tinder because we were attracted to each other in photographs. Is there an aesthetic that you typically are attracted to in art or in your work that you think plays into who you’re attracted to in your daily life? 

I think so--but I have to say first off that what I’m attracted to ranges. Sometimes it’s because of [women’s] tattoos, sometimes they are generally good looking, sometimes they do something very interesting with their time for a living. I will say that, in my art, what I have captured in the past are women who embrace their inner wild woman, meaning those who love their natural body hair. Something about a woman with a grown/trimmed bush, armpit hair and even hairy legs is what I find utterly beautiful and am attracted to on a sexual level. 

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was eight and read A Series of Unfortunate Events. Did you have an “A-ha! This is what I want to be doing” moment with photography?

All my life I was fascinated with Polaroids. I’m pretty sure every family who had children between 1985-1995 had a Polaroid camera at most family events, so there was that initial exposure to photography at a very young age (please pardon the pun). Having shown this interest in taking photos, my mother bought me my first 35mm SLR camera when I was 12. After shooting a roll of black and white images in my backyard of flowers she had planted, there was something that sort of clicked for me. I realized I was good at something, even on a slight level, and I wanted to devote my time to it as much as possible. That “A-ha” moment came when I was sitting in the photo department of a Target near my house and I looked at the contact sheet of that first roll I shot.

 
M.A. Baratta

M.A. Baratta

 

You created your “Sin” series while working for kink.com. Did you initially realize these photos were going to form a larger body of work? 

I did not, no. That was a weird time in my life; all in all, it was about a year’s time frame that I worked for or around the production of BDSM porn on a variety of levels--gay, straight, femdom, etc. Every moment or chance I had to snap a shot with either my digital or Hasselblad camera was a rare moment--and also a shade of grey, legally speaking. When I was a model for kink.com, I was able to shoot pretty much whatever I wanted when I was on set and was able to retain my own copyright for those images. After some time, I was offered a contracted position with the company as a full time (but freelance) EPA (editor, production assistant). During this time, for about 2 months towards the end of my stay with the company, I was under contract, a contract that stated that anything I shot on set belonged to the company. I would have never been able to make that particular body of work if I had not also been a model, much like how Erika Langley became a stripper just like the rest of the girls she photographed in her book The Lusty Lady: Photographs and Texts; to get those shots she had to become one of them.

The photographs in your “Sin” series often reveal an element of the set in the foreground. As a result, your depiction of sin becomes a depiction of performance. Are performativity and photography intrinsic to one another? 

At the time I was working with kink.com, I was also enrolled full time in the BFA Photography program at the San Francisco Art Institute, and many of my teachers knew what I was involved in. One teacher in particular told me about Larry Sultan’s book The Valley, which I coveted religiously in the Ann Bremer Memorial Library on campus. His work was burned in my brain when I was documenting the images that would later make up my “Sin” series. My approach to these images was much like Larry’s: a documentation of an act--a performance, if you will. I will say that performance is tied intrinsically to pretty much any and all fine art photographic imagery. One could even make an argument that street photography can be a form of performance, if you cite the French situationists of the late ‘50s/early ‘60s as a performance with how one can move through a city or urban environment. I can’t say the same for commercial or vocational photography, though. Everything changes when it’s all about the money.  

What projects are you working on now? 

Lately, I’ve been a bit stagnant; I’ve been recovering from a nasty motorcycle accident I suffered six months ago when I nearly lost my leg after being hit by a negligent driver near my home in downtown LA. I’m trying to focus more on my musical endeavors as of late. I’ve been playing drums and have been in bands for as long as I’ve been taking photographs. It’s been more of something I’ve done in my spare time as a hobby, but I want to make it my full time profession: being a pro drummer that tours and records with anyone and everyone. As far as my photography goes, I have a new series in mind that I have started the beginning stages of. Imagine a natural history museum mixed with street photography.... Should be interesting.

 

M.A. Baratta

M.A. Baratta

 

Is there anything in your photography you don’t want to do?

Ha. I will not become a bona-fide wedding photographer. I just won’t do it! Sure, I’ll shoot my friend’s wedding, I’ll shoot your wedding even, but I will not become a wedding photographer, the kind of photographer that ONLY shoots weddings. Fuck that, no thank you.

Has your experience of someone’s artwork ever made you more or less romantically interested in them? 

Unfortunately, yes. I’ve dated a few female artists in the past several years; one in particular was a photographer like myself. I started to hate her because of the work she began to make. Maybe it was jealously, but our work was very similar and related to each other based on content and aesthetic. A part of me feels as if she took my style and ran with it, ultimately getting more attention from others while I was struggling to get recognized or get paying work to stay afloat financially. Instead of uplifting her and her creative endeavors, I was frustrated that I wasn’t seen as being as good as she was by others who looked at both of our work. I should have just been content that we made our own work that was special and unique, but I wasn’t. I felt like it was a competition when it wasn’t. I realize now that that is no way to love another person. 

On your website, side tabs further organize your work. One is labeled ‘girls’ and one is labeled ‘boys.’ When clicked on, the subheading shifts from ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ to ‘portraits of men’ and ‘portraits of women.’ What relationship do terms like girls, women, men, and boys have to you work? 

I think you’re the first person to ever point this out--at least the first to bring it up in a conversation. This was intentionally done; for some reason, I like playing with dichotomies in my work, either in text or in imagery. The act of the contradiction, expecting one thing and then getting another, is something that is sprinkled throughout my work. Personally, I think we’re all children who never really grow up. These “boys” and these “girls,” they are adults by society’s standard, but there’s a sense of childhood embedded within the images.

The women in your portraits often appear in their homes or in spaces that seem empty, like a graveyard or against a backdrop. Often, their movements seem delicate and routine. They are seen removing their top, sitting, smoking. The men are captured in more public spaces and at more active moments. They are jumping, playing guitar, drumming. What most interests you when photographing a woman or a man? What is their relationship to public and private space in your work? 

Most of the women I’ve photographed in intimate settings have mostly been friends and lovers of mine--I’d say even the legitimate models I’ve shot have, in some way, become my friend in one way or another. I will say that I’ve always been more emotionally connected with women than I have with men in my life. My relationships with both my mother and my father have been sour since childhood, but I was raised in a home with two women and no father figure. I know that it’s always been easier for me to make a deep connection with women, especially those who believe in me and the potential my work has. Most men I know and have met don’t see what the women who have posed nude for me have seen, in regards to my work. I’d love to photograph men in the same manor that I have women, but most of the time these men are my friends, or friends of friends, or even clients who don’t feel as comfortable being nude or even being photographed. I will say that there has been a definite shift in how I photograph genders: females are mostly for my own fine art purposes; males are mostly for commercial or vocational means. I haven’t tried to make this the case--at least not consciously/intentionally.

 
M.A. Baratta

M.A. Baratta

 

If you had to represent yourself on Tinder through something other than how you look, such as a weird meal you’ve eaten, a song that changed your life, etc. what would it be? 

I don’t know. I am in love with a friend of mine’s White German Shepherd. Her name is Poland. I’m waiting for her owners to pass so I can inherit her....

Do you have any artistic crushes? 

Musically: Aimee Mann. She’s such a babe and has a beautiful voice/is a great musician. Artistically: Sophie Calle. She’s a beautiful human being and makes beautiful work. I’ve always been attracted to Autumn de Wilde for her creative endeavors, and, well, she’s a babe. You’re not so bad yourself, Scarlett.