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Tina Barney


(born 1945, New York City). American photographer. Tina Barney was born into a wealthy, upper class New York family. Her grandfather introduced her to photography when she was a young girl, and Barney began collecting photographs at the age of 26. It was not until the mid-1970’s that Barney personally started working with photography. Initially, as a bored housewife living a life of leisure, Barney focused on candid snapshots of her well-to-do family and relatives set amongst an array of lavishly decorated backdrops, including classy New York apartments and plush New England vacation homes. With a 35mm camera she was able to reveal both the familial relationships and sheer extravagance of material wealth she was accustomed to. During the 1980’s, Barney became one of the first photographers to work in the “directional style” when she forfeited the spontaneous freedom of the 35mm for a more detail-oriented, large-format camera. The direction she uses in her photography ranges from posing her subjects amidst their elaborately ornate living environment to requesting that her subjects repeat a certain unplanned gesture. Barney’s photography, with its mundane subject matter and stiffly posed subjects, recalls works of 19th century portraiture in which every detail included alludes to the social status of the individual being portrayed. This notion becomes clear in works such as Jill & Polly in the Bathroom (1987) and The Daughters (2002), in which the background possesses the same intricacy and significance as the subjects themselves. In her later work, Barney favors personality over context, successfully establishing a more intimate connection between viewer and subject by bringing her camera closer into their lives. For example, in Marina and Peter (1997), father and daughter are shown sharing a private moment, but at the same time acknowledge the presence of the photographer. Here Barney revives the individualism and spontaneity of a snapshot by allowing her sitters to choose their own poses instead of giving direction. According to Barney, “when people say that there is a distance, a stiffness in my photographs, that the people look like they do not connect, my answer is, that this is the best that we can do. This inability to show physical affection is in our heritage.” (The Art Institute of Chicago) For almost thirty years, Tina Barney has realistically showcased the human condition through the eyes of the social elite, and has been described as a Diane Arbus of the rich. Barney currently lives and works in Rhode Island.

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