Tina Barney Photographs: Theater of Manners

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9783931141608: Tina Barney Photographs: Theater of Manners
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Tina Barney: Photographs. Theater of Manners.

New York photographer Tina Barney was born to an upper-class East Coast family. Ever since she started to take photographs in 1974 she has documented and examined her family's life. As an intimate observer, the viewer witnesses the intricacies of social rituals--weddings, Christmas dinners, and cocktail parties. Barney captures the tension between the polished surfaces and the intensity of the feelings underneath.

"There is a contradiction in my pictures that says, I feel closed out, distant, unable to enter into that person or place. But as that person or place pulls you into the space, at the same time I want to show my desire and will to approach the inside, to get closer, to contact, communicate to touch the interior. I want to get inside because it's the only thing that's worthwhile. The insignificance of human beings terrifies me, and that feeling of doubt, reason for existence, keeps me on a constant search for substance, depth, validity."

Barney's photographs are brilliantly composed, densely layered tableaux signaling her familiarity with classic painting. The viewer can never be quite sure whether the images are carefully posed arrangements or perfectly captured moments of "real life." Barney's astute play with artifice mirrors social life itself--part artifice, part spontaneity. In this comprehensive monograph Tina Barney is revealed as a rare combination of artist and visual anthropologist.

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Review:

A cursory glance at Tina Barney's first monograph, Theater of Manners, finds a simple set of family snapshots. A closer look, though, reveals that these color photographs, deeply saturated in light and expertly reproduced, are in fact a carefully organized survey into the realm of familial and social relationships. The offhanded quality of the images is not accidental. Barney has a strong eye for the family tableau: children sprawled over the furniture in a formal parlor, shirtless and tan adult brothers tending the barbecue, young cousins in matching double-breasted jackets, Aunt Shirley in a floral dress in the center of a flower-wallpapered room. The reader is never quite sure just how posed the models are--everything seems just a bit too perfect, but then that may be one of the points these photos aim to make. Barney grew up cosseted by a family of upper-middle-class Easterners, and it seems she turns her camera back on that roseate world to discover the strains and strengths that form its foundation. This set of images is organized loosely like a family album; as the pages turn, the reader is carried through the years. Babies become teenagers, girls at the beach become young women in bridesmaids dresses. It becomes readily apparent that Barney is a highly skilled artist and an excellent observer of the complex relationships we all share with those we love.

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