The art of bathing is one we’ve lost in this country. While we like to languish in lidos, swim lengths at the local leisure centre and dip our toes in a back garden paddling pool, it’s rare you’ll grab a communal bath with your friends – unless you’ve been on a city break to Bath or play rugby. Fortunately the tradition has continued in Budapest, and it’s where London-based photographer Baker’s latest series takes place.
A number of things drew Baker to the baths: “I remember seeing a photograph of the baths years ago… I still have the memory of the amazing characters in the picture within this epic architectural backdrop. Not so long ago I came across Nikolai Bakharev’s amazing portraits of bathers on the Russian beaches taken in the 80s. I love those pictures not only because they’re beautiful but because they were taken under the backdrop of Communism, yet in the photos there’s not a single hint of that [negative] feeling.” With Hungary being a former communist country, full of stunning architecture and interesting characters, Baker was drawn to the baths to create his own set of images.
Asking to take pictures of strangers in their swimsuits and trunks isn’t an easy task and there were a few awkward moments for Baker: “I was a half naked English guy who can’t speak a word of Hungarian wandering around a public bath asking if I could take their photograph. There were quite a few comical exchanges of hand gestures to try and explain what I wanted to do.”
It’s the people Baker has captured in this series where the true beauty lies. White beards gleam from the reflections of the water and lycra cradles tanned skin lined with experience. There’s a sense of ease throughout the series as though Baker’s presence hasn’t even registered with his subjects and it’s great he’s been able to capture the uninterrupted leisure. “Most of the older people in the baths have probably been going there for their whole lives so there aren’t any hang ups about how they look or how they act. They just don’t really give a fuck. All the old men seem to be cracking out beers at midday, hanging out with mates and having a good time,” Baker explains. It’s beautiful to see this companionship and sense of security throughout the images.
"I love the spontaneity of meeting new people and hearing random stories. Everyone wants to share their wisdom and knowledge and it’s amazing how much people will tell you when you stop to listen."Baker
The creamy palette in Baths of Budapest is wonderful and it’s as though the rippling water in the baths has washed over all the other colours, making them silky. This was important to Baker: “The colours added to the feeling. They felt very natural to the setting. Soft colours give me a feeling of ease and that to me was the feeling of the baths.”
Baker’s at his best when he’s in the moment, simply capturing the natural passing of time through the people he meets as seen in his ode to Sunday League football All Roads Lead to Wembley, and now again, in Baths of Budapest. But it seems Baker gets much more than a photograph when he works with his subjects: “I love the spontaneity of meeting new people and hearing random stories. Everyone wants to share their wisdom and knowledge and it’s amazing how much people will tell you when you stop to listen. It’s an incredible experience.”