While I was traveling in Europe several months back, a gallerist inquired as to who I held to be the single contemporary American photographer making the most important work.
Without so much as a pause, I suggested Allison Barnes.
That probably surprises a few of you with how much I am perpetually singing @ericashires praises…
But while Shires’ polyglotism w/r/t various, disparate image making processes along with the way the tone of her work seems to invoke a similar force as when a dream unexpected develops a malevolent undertone and you wonder if you should pinch yourself, appeal to me on an almost preternatural level, there’s a still small voice that questions whether an image maker can be a viable consideration for the gate keepers of culture without at least some degree of academnification.
With the possible exception of digital collage and the definite exception of cinema, photography is an adolescent art–what with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s first image being 1826ish, photography hasn’t even reached it’s bicentennial.
Further there’s a lag between the introduction of the work and it’s adoption by the academie. How long had color photography been around before it was considered a viable fine art medium? How long after Robert Frank’s release of The Americans, the subsequent backlash and the eventual promotion of it to the yard stick by which the art-worthiness of American photography is measured? Who’s the most recent photographer to achieve fine art canonization–Alec Soth?
During the two years I studied photography in an academic setting, I ran into–again and again–this antipathy to work not accepted as ensuing from the framework of fine art photography.
As someone who does a lot of work with nudes in ruins and landscapes, I was concerned about potential overlap with someone like Miru Kim (whom I fucking detest). However, she wasn’t considered to be making work under the fine art umbrella.
I object to this rigid demarcation for at least a hundred different reasons but mostly I hold that without an aggressive cross-pollination of practices, perspectives and methodologies, that which is good becomes less good. In other words, shit stagnates.
No, you shouldn’t include Miru Kim just because she gave an awkward TED talk. But if you step back and look at things with a wider lens, you can see how Miru Kim’s relationship to fine art photography vs. pop photography is the exact inverse of what Noah Kalina’s relationship to those respective categories.
So why Allison Barnes?
Well, to grossly over generalize, it has to do with that adage about a picture being worth 1,000 words. And they question–whether conscious or not–is what do we do with those words? We can explore, document, tell a story, seek out the foreign in the familiar, etc.
I don’t believe it’s an accident that the series from which the above image emerges is taken from one of Sappho’s most famous poem fragments.
There’s that great line by one of the greatest poets–whom I consider an honorary photographer–William Carlos Williams:
By using her 1,000 words toward the end of poetry, Barnes does more to unify the rigid parameters of fine art photography with the impetus driving the creation of so much self-confessional pop photography than anyone else with whom I am familiar.