GORDON BAER at the Kennedy Heights Art Center

March 21st, 2013  |  Published in March 2013  |  3 Comments

GORDON BAER at the Kennedy Heights Art Center

Kevin Ott

In his storied career, Gordon Baer has photographed the Beatles, Pete Rose, Larry Flynt and numerous other recognizable, iconic subjects. But, it is Baer’s photographs of the unknowns that are the heart of his great body of work.

The Kennedy Heights Art Center is displaying 62 of Baer’s photos, most black and white, pre-digital, many from the 1960s-1980s. On my weekday visit, I was alone in the Center and able to spend some time with the various series of photos displayed.

What may catch your eye at first are the Beatles pictures, Pete Rose in his batting stance (Warhol used Baer’s photos to help create his Rose painting and prints) or Larry Flynt at his height as porno-provocateur. Soon, though, the many other Images begin to grab your attention. Often they are displayed in series.

One such series, “Teenage Girls Series” from 1967, shows Baer’s humanity, his ability to connect with subjects and make them comfortable in their surroundings. The girls are seen in their disheveled bedrooms, their angst and less-fortunate circumstances permeating the scenes with sadness. The least hopeful of these shows a girl with a gun to her head, posing I imagine, but still… The most hopeful shows a pregnant teen, her boyfriend’s hand on her rounded belly, both smiling brightly.

Another series, and maybe Gordon Baer’s most recognized, is from his great 1981 book, “Viet Nam: The Battle Comes Home”, which documents the pain and dislocation of the returning Vets. A small room in the Center is given to this display of these poignant pictures. Again, you can see Gordon’s ability to connect with the people. They are unafraid to reveal themselves and their pain. “Gordon sees with his eyes and with his heart”, Bill Carner of the University of Louisville Library said of Baer on the occasion of  2009 exhibit there.

In the 1980s the New York Times ran a story on strip mining, and a striking photo in the exhibit from this story shows a distraught couple from behind as they stare at the crumbling, sliding hillside that had held their son’s grave. Exhibit curator Sarah Siegrist says, “His images speak to the very essence of what it is to be Human.” This photo and many others here demonstrate this.

The Kennedy Heights Art Center, located in a rambling old house on Montgomery Road, has done a great service, bringing to light these rarely seen beautiful documents of the human experience shot by a man with a big heart and a great eye.

Kevin Ott



  1. Nonie Muller says:

    March 24th, 2013at 3:35 pm(#)

    I absolutely love Gordon’s ability to capture the essence and soul of a person in his photographs. Just as this featured photo led me into asking more about the man who makes chairs, I found myself asking more about who is the man who fashioned a life in a way that caught Gordon’s photo lens and his respectful curiosity. Then I ask how did Gordon find his way into the man’s life so that he was able to capture these touching photos which reveal so much?

    As a result, I realize my own curiosity has been given great inspiration to seek the heart and soul of all those I meet! Thank you Gordon!

  2. Cynthia Kukla says:

    April 10th, 2013at 12:15 am(#)

    I wish I were in town to see Gordon’s exhibition. I have so admired his art work. I am so glad it is being well-received.

  3. Edwin Barnes says:

    April 29th, 2013at 1:38 pm(#)

    I am pleased to say I know Gordon Baer, or more accurately,
    I have crossed paths with him personally. I visited his Cincinnati studio almost fifteen years ago. We talked about many local topics and determined we were both military veterans…his time being during the Viet Nam period and mine afterwards. It seems we connected on some empathic level and he presented me with a signed book of his war photos. I value that we shared this moment and I now know of his generosity. Recently, I discovered a book Gordon gave to my late father about Louisville Manual/Male HS history, in which his own father, Boss Ray Baer was featured. I called Gordon to tell him (and reminisce). Also to thank him for extending kindness to my father three decades earlier. Mr. Baer has indeed, “enhanced the essence” for all of us. Thank you, again, Gordon Baer.
    Dr. Edwin Barnes