JONATHAN CHERRY:What did you want to be growing up?
HORATIO BALTZ: When I was a kid I always wanted to fly airplanes. The closest I got to even remotely pursuing that dream was incessantly drawing flying machines. I would draw fighter planes, 747 jumbo jets, harrier jump jets, stealth bombers, UFOs, space ships, helicopters. I would draw during class, after class, on the bus, at the kitchen table, underneath the covers. It was an obsession. It was the sole purpose of my existence.
One day I was alone in my room drawing when a strange movie came on the television. It was a film called Barbarella starring a nubile Jane Fonda. I was entranced. I watched the entire movie with mouth agape. The last light of the day was coming in through my bedroom window as the credits rolled. I left the house and rode my bike to the edge of town where I sat at a pair of defunct railroad tracks. I imagined a life with Jane Fonda. I imagined flying a spaceship to the moon with her and living in a nest I made in her hair. I removed the pens and pencils brimming from my pockets and threw them into the darkness of the night. I walked my bike home defeated. I haven’t drawn a flying machine since.
JC: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
HB: Right now I’m reading Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell. I wish I could take pictures as good as he writes. I feel like his style of writing along with work of Studs Terkel, Tony Schwartz, James Agee and countless others in the same vain have really informed my recent photographic endeavors. They’ve definitely made me more curious about the world around me.
JC: What are you up to right now?
HB: Right now I’m taking pictures of this roller skating club in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn called Crazy Legs. Every Wednesday the gymnasium of a Salvation Army is turned into a roller skating rink equipped with a DJ, skate rentals, and refreshments. It’s a really tight knit community of roller skaters - some of whom have been skating together since the 70’s at now shuttered rinks like The Roxy or Empire Roller Skating. The neighborhood has been undergoing changes in demographics with lots of younger kids moving in, so you get this interesting mixture of different folks. It was at Crazy Legs that I met Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown who are shooting a feature length documentary on the the explosion of roller skating culture across the country - I’ve been privileged to work for them shooting their exciting doc, and yes, we have a Kickstarter.
JC: Have you had mentors along the way?
HB: Sure. Most recently I was able to meet one of my photographic heroes Alec Soth at a summer camp he hosted in Minnesota. He invited a small group of writers, photographers, illustrators, and designers to his studio for what I would describe as a “creative retreat” of sorts. The energy in the room was electric, and I really learned how important it was to always be looking at great work. I feel so humbled by how gracious him and his studio staff were with their time and energy.
JC: Where are you based right now and how is it shaping you?
HB: I’m based in Brooklyn, New York. New York is the city that never shuts up, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s full of millions of people doing millions of things with millions of opinions and I feel like if I can’t find something to shoot here I’m a fucking moron or just lazy or maybe and quite possibly both. So I guess it keeps me motivated by making me hate myself immensely.
JC: One piece of advice to photography graduates?
HB: I’m not sure I’m really in the position to be giving that sort of advice - I’m still trying to figure it out myself. But I think one thing I’ve learned from my experiences working with people is the value of bringing back prints, especially when working on longer term projects. Despite the fact that everyone has a camera in their pocket, people really still love holding prints. Also, learn some jokes from people. You can really get a sense of a person by what jokes they laugh at and what jokes they know.
JC: Is it important to you to be a part of a creative community?
HB: Sometimes. Places like Mull It Over, Flak Photo, or FeatureShoot are great places to keep inspired and keep up to date with really fantastic photographers, and I’ve definitely followed the work of photographers I’ve found in these places. So in that sense, yes, I do love looking at new pictures from new photographers on a daily basis. The idea of community is a little tricky for me, here. I feel that in terms of fleshing out my ideas I’ve had better luck with strangers at bars than any sort of formal community.