Stacey Baker – CitiLegs
Stacey Baker – CitiLegs
Stacey Baker is always on the lookout for interesting legs. As a photo editor at The New York Times Magazine she indulges her curiosity on her daily walk to work. A little over a year ago, Baker posted her first instagram of women’s legs and now, with more than 500 images and over 40,000 followers, the CitiLegs collection is lauded as a simple yet beautiful study in women, fashion, beauty and style.
53rd & 8th, New York
Tell us a little about your day job?
I’m a photo editor at The New York Times Magazine. I’m one of several photo editors on staff here. It’s my job to help assign and produce the photography that appears in our magazine. I get to work with some of the world’s best photographers. It’s a terrific job.
How did the idea of the citilegs project come about?
I’ve always paid attention to other women’s legs. Like a lot of women, I tend to be critical of my body, and I’ve always wanted longer legs. Some women want larger or smaller breasts or a smaller waist or whatever—but I always wanted longer legs. And walking around NYC, you see a lot of legs. I took my first photo of a woman’s legs at the Waldorf Astoria hotel here in NYC a year ago in March. I liked the cut of her coat and how it framed her legs and posted it on my Instagram account. I began taking more. After a while, my boss, Kathy Ryan, told me she thought there was something interesting about them. A few others encouraged me too. I’ve found that it’s fun to have a creative project of my own.
Achill Island, Ireland
When did you realise you were onto something special with this project?
My instagram feed, which is where I post the pictures, got a big boost in followers after Instagram featured the project on their blog last year. I went from having something like 2000 followers to 22, 000. (I now have about 37,000, which is crazy.) But even with the surge in followers, I wasn’t convinced that it was all that interesting. It’s the comments on the feed, especially those that see the project as empowering women, that made me realize it was resonating. I suspect the pictures may be more interesting years down the road when we look back at what women were wearing in 2013 or 2014.
East 14th & University Place, New York
What criteria do you use to select a subject?
It could be anything–the shape of a woman’s legs, what she’s wearing, or how she stands. I don’t like to repeat myself. I don’t like to take a picture of the same leggings or skirt for example, though I’ve done it once or twice. And I’m drawn to a variety of shapes. Even though I desire long thin legs myself, it’s the legs with curves I think that make the best pictures and are the most interesting. I like to think I’m internalizing that a little and being less critical of my own legs.
51st & 8th, New York
Do you have to direct the subjects much?
Once they agree to be photographed, we look for a nearby wall, which I ask the subject to stand in front of. I also ask them to raise or tuck in their shirt so I can see the top of their pants or skirt—I want to photograph as much of the legs as possible. I also ask them to raise their hands so they’re not in the frame. I’ve included hands in some of the pictures but for whatever reason, I don’t think they’re as successful.
125th, Near Lenox, NYC
What is the usual reaction of the subject? They are happy to be snapped?
Yes, far and away, the subjects are very receptive and happy to participate. I’ve met the nicest women. It’s just a quick exchange really, but several have said I’ve made their day or told me how happy they are with the pictures. I always offer to email them the images too. Occasionally someone I approach declines, which I respect. I’m not sure I would stop if someone approached me, though I’d like to think I would.
Prince & Crosby, NYC
What has been the reaction of the general public / Instagram followers, etc?
The comments on the feed range from those about fashion and sex to comments about stance and power. It’s fascinating. I still occasionally see critical comments about the women’s bodies, which I try to monitor. I think it’s ok to criticize the clothes but I’m less comfortable with critical remarks about the women’s bodies.
41 5th Ave, New York
Is this more about fashion of the people and their implied stories for you?
For me, fashion is just part of it. I think the most successful pictures are portraits of the women. Their shape, how they stand and what they wear—all of that is a reflection of who they are. A lot of people seem to follow it for the street fashion aspect and others see the project as empowering women. I can see that too. And as I go, I’m more interested in the legs as kind of abstractions or sculptures.
125th & St Nicholas, NYC
Do you ask any questions of the subjects? Or try to find out any more about their life?
Not really. If they seem like tourists, I might ask them where they’re from, but the exchange is generally related to taking their picture. I’m probably with them no longer than 5 or 10 min.
How do you put them at ease?
I show them the legs pictures on my IG feed so they can see that the pictures are from the waist down. I think it reassures them that they can be completely anonymous if they like, though if the women are on Instagram, they generally want to be tagged. I also offer to delete any pictures they don’t like.
Dalston Junction, London
The series is not confined to NYC, what differentiates legs/fashion/women in different cities?
It’s a good question, and I’d like to explore that more. I’m not sure if the stances or fashion vary that much among the places I’ve photographed so far—NYC, London, Paris and villages in Ireland. I thought the stances of the few women I photographed in Paris last year were different from what I found in other places, but I was only there a few days.
40th between 7th & 8th, New York
These were all taken on an iPhone?
Yes. And I don’t use any filters. I did early on but didn’t like the effect. I much prefer them unfiltered.
West 10th & 5th, New York
What has been the impact of Instagram on photography?
Don’t get me started! I could talk about Instagram for days. I think it’s the most significant phenomenon in photography today. It offers photographers and people who like to take pictures the ability to engage directly with an audience. I’m surprised more professional photographers aren’t embracing it. I’d love to see what photographers like Martin Parr or Paolo Pellegrin would do on Instagram. It’s an exciting new medium.
West 4th & 6th Ave, New York
Your favourite shot?
West 4th & 6th, New York
Any advice for photographers for photographing strangers
You just have to do it. And the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. I also find that most people are really very nice. I do get an occasional rude remark from someone who thinks the project is weird, and while it stings a little, I just keep going. Far and away, most people are lovely.
10th & West 23rd, New York
I just like taking the pictures for myself. It would be fun to travel more though. I think there are amazing legs pictures to be made in places like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Tokyo. Some of my favorites were taken in villages in Ireland. You never know where you’ll see something interesting.
40th between 7th & 8th, New York
Whose work do you currently admire?
Right, now, I’m most interested in photographers who are doing something new and different on Instagram. Those who are exploring this exciting new medium. David Guttenfelder (@dguttenfelder) and Alec Soth (@littlebrownmushroom) are at the top of that list. They’re posting terrific work on IG.
Where can we see more of your work?
86th between 3rd & Lexington, New York