If the soul and the ego were objects we could look at, the soul would be a translucent heart beating.
BOMBLive! 192 Books, New York March, 2011
The following is a transcript of the conversation.
Betsy Sussler Hi, everyone! I’m Betsy Sussler from BOMB Magazine. I’m its editor-in-chief. I’d like to welcome you here tonight to 192 Books. I’m very glad to see such a wonderful crowd. BOMB first published an interview with Tina Barney in 1995 by David Corey. This is what we wrote then:
Tina Barney photographs what she describes as a vanishing world and the vanishing way of life. The photographs are large-scale, color images of upper-class Anglo-American life within a closed society of an enclave in Watch Hill. [Watch Hill, Rhode Island, I should say.] Her subjects are family and friends. Often described as a combination of Monet and Henry James, the photographs are more like Walker Evans taken through the looking glass.
At the time—and it’s still true—I was mesmerized by the theatricality of Tina’s photographs, the staged juxtaposition of her subjects, the emotional weight they carried, and the revelations of intimacy that they portrayed. Her new book Players, which we are celebrating tonight, combines commercial assignments with fashion and portraiture. Edited and designed by Chip Kidd, its stage is broader, and its impact complex and sensational. Michele Gerber-Klein who is interviewing Tina tonight writes on both photography and fashion. She has in fact conducted some of BOMB’s best interviews of photographers, among them, Robert Polidori and Richard Pare. I am very pleased to introduce you to Tina Barney and Michelle Gerber-Klein.
Michele Gerber-Klein So Tina, tell me about this—let’s talk about the size of the book.
Tina Barney Well, that’s a very big decision. I remember when I published The Europeans, I was sitting and had to make this decision. You don’t really know till you get back to the United States, you open up the box, and you see your book complete for the first time. I thought, Oh my god, it’s too small! It’s too small! But still, I kept thinking all this time, as books have gotten bigger and bigger with the art that’s in them has gotten bigger and bigger, that first of all I’m a weakling and I can’t carry the book.
I also really, really believe that these coffee table books—you pick out, put them on a table, and you look at them once. You never open them again. Mainly just because it’s too cumbersome, and you don’t really look. It’s just not intimate. I also like the idea that you can bring this—I can actually handle it—to a friend. It’s just flexible. Then the idea of scales, since my photographs are large, 5’ x 4’ and have been since 1982, didn’t really make a difference. It’s sort of interesting to see your work made in a different scale for the first time and what really happens. There’s an intimacy there in that your eyes sort of bounce back and forth and can move around the page very easily; whereas when you have something bigger, I think your eye just can’t spread out. You start to wander, and you start daydreaming instead of really looking at the details.
MGK I think you’re right. I think what you want to do is look at every little bit of what’s going on in these photographs, which is true when your photographs are on the wall. So it should be true of your photographs when they’re in a book. Show them when you take off the cover.
TB Well, this is something—I had just gotten this book in a moment of panic this week. I’ve had enough time to give it to a couple friends and family members. They’re really bored of me waiting for this book, so I don’t like to pester them too much about the preciousness of it to me. But I cannot believe how many people get the book after they’ve known how much attention has been made of it, and they don’t take this off! Because to me, this is the one thing I asked Chip to do for me. He did mostly everything else. I just had to have this hard cover. There’s just something about it. But people don’t tend to do that. Also there are many little treats inside this book, and I think I’m going to have to call every single friend and go through this book with them—
—and point everything out, and say Did you see this? Did you see this? I noticed, I just picked up another book of Chip’s. This is one of the things he loves to do, but look at this eye looking at you. Here again. Here’s the eye on the hardcover, on the spine. Then as you look through the book, there are eyes looking at you. The people are looking at each other from page to page. So that’s just one of the many little tiny things that I love about it.
MGK Do you view it as sort of a show that people can carry around?
TB Oh! Well, that’s a nice thought. I hadn’t really thought of that, but I love that! You know, like your own portfolio.
MGK Yeah, exactly!
TB Luckily I’ve never had to do that, or thought of it that way, but it’s… . You know when you’re over in Germany and sitting in sort of the mecca of books, it sort of hits home again, especially in sort of the age of the computer and the Internet and the tiny little thing that you’re all looking at. You’re reminded of just how special books are and how wonderful it is. It’s wonderful to have a record of what you’ve done over the years; it’s the only way you can really show people. I also noticed how we all forget. Don’t you remember that image I did in 20blahblah? So here it is.
MGK These were images you really hadn’t found a place for yet. They came together here.
TB Yes, well Janet Bordon and myself, who has always worked on the books that I’ve done, especially The Europeans and this book. Many pictures have sort of stayed in the back drawer for years, and there’s never been a sort of place for them. So first of all, that was an idea, to use these pictures that I’ve never used. But then also I’ve done work in magazines, and I’ve done fashion work and advertising; and most people don’t see those, don’t know where they are. But the most fun part is mixing them all together and showing the similarities and just things in common that they have.
MGK You know, it’s hard to tell them apart. I remember when you and I were looking, I was trying to guess which ones were fashion ones and which ones were portrait. Let’s talk a little about the Wooster Group. Tell me a little how you came to the Wooster Group. Let’s see if we can find some of these.
TB Yeah, I’ll find it for you. Janet Bordon has two friends that she met at [Smith College Museum of Art] many years ago, Sheena See and Roy Faudree. They both went to Smith, and they’re actors. Both of them had acted in the Wooster Group, and that’s how I became involved with them. This for instance is from the Wooster Group (shows photograph to audience). And as I say in the introduction—
MGK And they did this for you.
TB Yes. The part that was so exciting is that I got up on the stage, and they performed just for me. They would stop—I had my assistant with me, my lights, my tripod (I use a view camera)—of course, here I can’t find them—and all my apparatus right in between all their own work. The television sets, the wires, all the things they have. So we’re sort of hopping over each other. That’s funny that we can’t find them now. Well, here’s one of Willem Dafoe, but this isn’t typical—this is a very still, quiet one. This is actually probably during rehearsal. Let me just find you a couple of the others.
Right here, I found it. So this one here on this side (shows photograph to audience) is from the Wooster Group. But what I love that Chip did is he matched it with this fashion photograph over here. There are little sort of details that just—this kind of gathering of the skirt here, which is masked with this very strange costume, piece of clothing that’s sort of an armor that Roy found as part of his costume. You know, the Wooster Group actors find their own costumes and put them together. So that was a real thrill, because it was sort of like being amongst the actors but being able to record them. Obviously most of the people that look at my photographs aren’t going to realize that I’m standing three feet from these actors.
Well a lot of photographers photograph there to do that, but it’s with a view camera. That’s what makes a difference in the quality or resolution of the photograph. Then when I blow it up 5’ x 4’ it, becomes something very different than a journalistic photographer who’s going to record theater.
MGK Yeah, it’s almost cinematic when you look at it. It’s amazing. Did you just let Chip do whatever he wanted with the photograph?
TB What I did was: Janet and I went through these pictures. We edited them many times. We’d come and—I think it was a whole year probably, maybe two years—we’d go back and look at contacts. We sort of refined it. We’d edit down, edit down, edit down. Then I finally said Okay, I’m going to get the guts to ask Chip whether he’ll do this for me. He said yes. Then I sent him—maybe I sent him pictures, I can’t remember. Anyway, I sent him a pile of photographs, didn’t tell him one thing about the images, didn’t describe anything, didn’t tell him about my intentions, just handed him the pictures. Then a couple of months later, he came back and had this dummy. The first thing he had was this, and I fell in love with it right away.
Again I don’t know if people notice, but these are two different images, two different situations: this is a family commission the left, and this is a play I photographed called Dames at Sea. I was right up on the stage. So these are two images, but what I think it looks like is that this actress, this character is standing right in front of the curtain. The curtain is about to open or close, and here’s the scene behind it. I don’t know if that’s evident, but to me that’s what it looks like. I also don’t know if that’s what Chip’s intentions were. Here on the back is just a lot of things that have to do with color and texture.
MGK That’s really interesting. And is it interesting adding the players to things that you do? Because your portraits are sort of about the details that surround the people, their props; and your fashion work is supposedly about the fashion, although I really can’t tell the difference between your fashion work and your portraits sometimes. I guess when you shoot fashion, they just let you do whatever you want.
TB Well, it all depends, of course. There’s a big difference between editorial work, and there’s a lot of fashion editorial work in here, as opposed to commercial. Editorial being that you don’t get paid hardly anything—
—But you get to do what you want to do. That’s the big difference in the kind of—you can see in here, and I can point out at some point which photographs are editorial and which are not.
MGK Where’s the one of the two men? Which could be in a play too… .
TB In the limousine?
TB That photograph is from a magazine called Arena en’Plus which I’ve never heard of before. I don’t know if all of you have heard of it, but I think it’s English. I’m not sure. The thing about this photograph—I’ve worked for this magazine three times—is there is a stylist I work for—I can’t remember his name now, John… I’m sorry, John… I can’t remember his last name—basically we worked together in sort of terrific harmony. Again he let me do what I wanted to do. So that’s why the photographs from Arena en’Plus which are on here quite a few times look quite relaxed and not sort of staged.
MGK No, it looks as though it’s sort of story could be going on or a film still almost, to me.
TB Well that’s what they hired me to do. One thing that does happen, which is kind of a pain in the neck, is that when you do fashion, you have to pay attention to the clothes.
That for me is very frustrating, because just as I—I work very fast—and just as I get really into doing something, a stylist would come in (or a hair person) and stop the whole event. But otherwise I think they look very relaxed. The other thing I think in editorial work is that a lot of the time, they let me decide the pictures that I want to do.
MGK How is that?
TB Well, just because that’s why they hired me. That choice makes a big difference.
MGK They let you pick the clothes?
TB No, no, they let me choose, out of the editing, the pictures I want.
MGK Oh, the ones that you want.
TB No, I wouldn’t have a clue what to do [with the clothes]. I really wouldn’t.
MGK What about ads, you did ads for Bottega Veneta?
TB I did ads for Bottega Veneta’s ad campaign, and I can’t remember when. Thomas Myers, the genius from that company, it’s his eye, his brain, his baby, and he loves fine art photography and has hired fine art photographers to do all of his ad campaigns. What’s funny is you never know who did what. For instance, the campaign that’s out now, I’m dying to know who the photographer is. I could go find out, but I haven’t done that. You really can’t identify them. He also controls the picture a great deal. I don’t really like to talk too much about it, because I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot. I just want to say that a lot of those ad campaigns, or the very big ones you see, are highly-controlled. At least for me, when I’ve done them, I don’t have too much say at all. It’s very controlled.
MGK But did you like doing them? Yes?
TB Yes, it’s very exciting. It’s sort of like being in the motion picture world. In the beginning it was terrifying, because 50-60 people come; and my terrible fear is that I can’t remember people’s names and that I can’t remember their roles. But then I got used to it, and I realized none of that matters. I just had to do what I had to do. It got easier and easier as I did it.
MGK You were in that show at MoMA where they sort of bridged the gap between—
TB Susan Kaczmarek.
MGK Right. What of yours did they show? I can’t remember.
TB What year? What of mine? A lot of those pictures, probably—no, almost all of them—are in this book. Dennis Freedman who was the genius that was the [creative director] at W Magazine, who really brought fine art photographers, basically chose the photographers to the story. His brilliance was how he matched the subject matter or the story to the photographer, sometimes that doesn’t work at all. He just provided me with spectacular situations. So a lot of those pictures are in here. One of the best stories was called “New York Stories,” and I photographed people such as Angela Westwater, Brice Marden, it goes on and on. A new actress called Paz de la Huerta.
MGK Oh, is Paz in there?
TB She’s in this book too.
MGK Oh where is she? She’s so infamous now.
TB Yeah, she was a teenager—
MGK Was she the one putting on the makeup?
TB Yes, she is. This is Paz de la Huerta (show audience photograph)—
MGK —And her mom, right—
TB —Right there, when she’s about—
MGK That’s such a great photo. You don’t really recognize her because she’s blonde, and now she’s a brunette with such long hair.
TB So those were usually in the house or the home of people that I photographed. Then Dennis brought me to Mexico City and to Dallas. There are a lot of pictures from the Dallas shoot in here from W magazine. It really was fun to do, very sort of exciting and extravagant and wonderful.
MGK But the photo of Paz, was it fashion or was it a portrait? Or was it both?
TB What was great about Dennis Freedman is he didn’t care—I don’t think he really cared about the clothes—he was so in love—
MGK I don’t think they do either actually. (laughter)
TB —He was so in love with photography and the photographers that he worked with that basically he’d say to the people I’d photograph, “You can wear whatever you want,” which never happens. He really was there to make good pictures, and he also would listen to the picture that you thought was the best picture. So really most of the time, there might have been one little belt that they give credit to that really had nothing to do with showing off or advertising specific items.
MGK That’s interesting. When you do portraits too, I think I look actually more at the surroundings in your portraits than I do the clothes in your fashion. I don’t know why.
TB Great, thanks!
MGK There’s also the portrait of Leo Castelli that I want you to show them, which is so wonderful.
TB In this picture… This is the picture that has been the most successful and the most widely received of all of the pictures.
MGK It’s in lots of museums.
TB Not lots, yet.
TB I think what’s interesting about this picture is [that] a high percentage of people who see this photograph don’t know who this is. So that means that there must be something there that’s interesting besides the fact that this is of this great figure in the history of art. People think that maybe it’s his daughter that he’s with or his mistress, but this is Leo Castelli at the age of 90 with his 35-year old wife.
MGK And her cat.
TB And this is again Dennis Freedman who hired me to go photograph this, in a very humble apartment. I was very disappointed when I walked in; it was very, very plain. But there you go, with a Jasper Johns on the wall, the pink painting with the green faces. And the Lichtenstein. And I did not get a wind machine to have Mrs. Castelli’s hair blown.
MGK How did that happen?
TB She just went like that (flips hair). And then I got it. This is her cat that’s there.
MGK I love her shoes. I’m constantly looking at her shoes.
TB Oh! We found out later this is a Frank Stella rug. There’s a tiny little photograph there at the bottom that happens to be the Starn twins. So that’s beside the point too, but to me there’s something about the austerity and the starkness of the white. These little black figures that sort of look like this; I feel like sometimes they’re Francis Bacon. I don’t know why I think that. The graphics of the picture are very important to me. You know when I teach, I talk about that the most of all. The structure of the photograph is really what holds the eye, and then brings the viewer into the picture to examine it.
MGK How much can you see your photograph before you take it?
TB I don’t, because I sort of go into a semi-coma state.
TB I go into a situation. I don’t have to see it before. I walk in. I say, That’s where I want it to be. I bring the people in. Things start going. I photograph very fast with this view camera which is not supposed to be used that way. Or it hasn’t been used that way in the past. I sort of really just move very quickly based on energy and instinct. Really afterwards, in looking at contacts and looking at the result, that’s when I see, Okay this is the right one. A lot of the time it’s sort of the formal parts of the way the picture’s put together and then of course what the people are doing and the interaction between the people. It’s very important. But of course, where they’re placed, the fact that this snake is here, this book is here. All that is very important. That takes a little coaxing from me, not too much direction, just waiting for the right moment. Each picture, of course, is very different.
MGK Let’s also look at the one of the people in Texas.
TB That very elaborate one?
MGK Yeah, right.
TB That again was W Magazine. In situations that, for me, were more foreign than anything I’ve ever seen, more foreign than Europe or India—and I’m not going to say why.
MGK You can say why! Say why.
TB No. Let’s skip that. What I love is that Chip put these two pictures together. To me they look like patchwork quilts.
MGK They do. You’re right.
TB Like how much can you possibly do in a space? This was for Nest Magazine by the way. Do you remember that great, great, great magazine? I worked for that magazine. Okay, so this is just a family—a very powerful, well-known family—Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys. I hope he doesn’t see this book and not like it!
Anyway, this family with secret service men with wires in their ears with everything surrounding us, very intimidating, almost like being in some sort of state of war or something. They decided to be dressed in tuxedos. That was not my idea. So that’s how that happened.
MGK They dressed up for you.
TB They dressed up for me, in the daytime. They decided to where to sit. I love the scale of the two children in the chair, but this my favorite part… is that father who’s a big tough guy with that baby. Lots of time when you get that amount of people in a room, I don’t have to do a thing. They just kind of exist.
MGK Congregate? They just form themselves.
TB They do their own thing. That’s why one person for me is the most difficult…
MGK Who is this guy?
TB I can’t remember his name, but he was a collector, a mad collector. He had a whole room that was just literally Lily Pulitzer. The pants were lined up on the bed; he didn’t do that just for me. He worked at Barney’s too, because I walked in there one day and he was working there. So you know, this was just sort of a very nice apartment on the Upper East Side. The whole apartment you could almost not walk through, because there were so many objects.
MGK He commissioned you to do his portrait?
TB No, no, this is for Nest. They commissioned me.
MGK Oh, they wanted his house.
TB It was the cover of Nest. I can’t remember the editor of Nest, that brilliant guy. He cut this figure of this man out. It was actually sort of a trompe l’oeil on the cover of the book. He was a very extravagant editor, and he did fabulous things with that magazine.
MGK Do you have Bob Guccione in there too? That was a great one.
TB I do! That was an editorial job from the London Telegraph Magazine. It’s actually this picture right here. Speaking of being intimidated, that was his mansion in the East 70s.
MGK Yeah I notice Modigliani in the background.
TB Well he also painted. Some of his paintings look like Modigliani. You really couldn’t tell the different between the real ones and Bob Guccione’s.
TB He was very scary.
MGK He was?
TB Yeah, he was.
MGK Is that his wife?
TB Yeah, that was his wife who died soon after this picture was taken.
TB Oh boy everyone here is so…
MGK How did she die?
TB She was sick. Yes, he was very intimidating. He brought me in to show me his drawings and his work, and that’s when he sort of melted. He sort of became the very meek, shy, humble person.
MGK Because he really cared about this art he was making. He loved it.
TB Yeah that’s right.
MGK That’s really interesting. So these people are all “players”; they get all dressed up to have you photograph them. They’re all posing. They all have props. So it’s great to juxtapose them with—and oh, look at the baby!
TB The title Players is from a friend of mine. His name is David Gilbert who’s a writer. We were sitting around. I never can think of titles; I always struggle. I knew I wanted one word. I wanted it to be simple. He’s just sitting there, and he’s a very easy-going guy. He said Players ! I thought, That’s it. I liked the many connotations that come from that word that can be all different kinds of things. This was another magazine called Index, which was Peter Halley’s magazine. They would ask an artist to do the covers for a year. I did their covers, and this was a Christian rock group called The Danielsons.
TB A family who dressed up in these uniforms. This is a friend of mine’s child that lived in Rhode Island. I can’t even figure out why Chip put those two together, but I like it. Sometimes I like the fact that there’s no explanation. This is a play that I found—I ended up saying in the introduction—I got to the point where I thought I could continue with this theater project, and found out that theater companies thought I was crazy. They would not stop the whole play for me. They would not get in electrician, the sound people. This is one play that let me photograph. It’s called Center of the Universe. They let me photograph. What I like about it is it does look like a play, but yet it doesn’t. At the same time, it looks like it could be one of my photographs.
MGK You should find a circus one too, because that’s the ultimate…
TB You know, I love here, what shifted here. The gold cutting it in half. The end of the book has that too. I pursued the Big Apple Circus because they played in Rhode Island every summer. That was the hardest pursuit of the whole book was getting permission from the circus. This is the gold man. They let me photograph there for one day. I really wanted to have the circus. First of all, there was something very intimate about the Big Apple Circus, but also it just fit into the whole Players idea. I love this—sorry to skip around—Richard Foreman is a lot in this book. He just was so fabulous, because the interiors, just his stage sets were my kind of dream, and the insanity of the actors and the costumes. I loved what shifted here with this family from Dallas right here. I don’t know. Again I don’t have time to ask Chip, “Were you thinking of this? Because this little girl’s expression here looks like this guy’s expression here.”
Let me find the circus.
Here’s Jet Lag, which is a play/performance piece which was designed by Diller Scofidio. What I like about it is that this man is on the stage and he’s supposed to be on a boat. The video, which is definitely influenced by the Wooster Group I think, has him here. But then Chip put this Roman beach scene next to this scene next to the man on the boat with the sea behind him.
MGK I think he just did everything visually, which is great.
TB I do too; because he certainly didn’t know, you know… .
MGK Anything about the photographs.
TB This is the circus. I mean, that’s just a clown. This was a play Hothouse by Pinter at the Atlantic Theatre Company. One of the decisions I had was whether to show the stage, and make it evident that it’s a play. But I think it’s very evident.
MGK That is very evident.
TB What I liked was that it’s this sort of exaggeration of gesture, because it was sort of like my photographs and it showed the struggle that I had in my photographs with trying to make the people that I photograph how to move and act and pretend they’re communicating and moving. This is sort of forced, so it’s sort of this in-between stage of being a play and a real scene of people.
Here’s the circus. And this is one of my favorite juxtapositions. Because Chip said he did not notice this. Notice the gold lady, but then there’s this little tiny gold doorstop here.
Another thing I notice was this painting here which sort of mimics this ruffle of the dress here. But that’s just me kind of searching for things in common. This is an ad campaign, on the left, for Theory clothes. I’d never done an ad campaign before, and the art director liked my work. So he persuaded them to let me do that campaign.
MGK I think Theory pretty much let you do what you wanted though.
TB They did because of this art director. This is a magazine on the left called The Fashion. This one here which I think it lasted about a year. You know there are a lot of magazines that start and don’t make it. They let me do whatever I wanted. I love boy who is a real person, and I can’t believe that weird outfit he has on. But I can’t believe these two together… just the blues and the strangeness of it all.
MGK So have you ever photographed in black-and-white?
TB Yes, I have. They’re kept in a drawer, and I haven’t shown them. I showed one. It’s something that interests me a great deal.
MGK It’s totally different.
TB Well what interests me is how the photograph is conceived so entirely differently because it’s in black-and-white, and what your brain sort of does because it’s in black-and-white. Also as I’m making it, the graphics again, the sort of design of it, which is obviously just forms and shapes. All I know is that whatever I’m thinking about it, it’s so entirely different. You know what I’m thinking of, it’s sort of like speaking another language.
MGK It is, yeah.
TB It might be even a little bit more different than speaking another language. I’ve been collecting those pictures and making them as I go along until I really know what they’re about. But it’s just another thing I like to do.
MGK Well, you’ll find out once you look some more. I just love this. I think it’s great. I think it’s great because there’s really no text, except for the poem in the beginning.
TB Well, Michael Stipe—
MGK And your very brief introduction to it. It’s just seeing exactly the colors and the juxtaposition and the form.
TB This is one of the things, maybe one of the few things I asked Chip. I said that I’d love to do a detail, which I never do. I’m so strict about keeping the frame of my photograph, because I use a view camera. The edges are so sacred. To blow up a photograph, it’d be completely out of focus. I just love the idea of this big white form here, as opposed to this big white form. Then just the scale difference here is something that I really like. This is Richard Foreman. This is the first editorial job I ever had in 1988 or 1989 for Connoisseur magazine. It was to photograph Issey Miyake tuxedos. Then they asked me to use people that I knew in the picture; so here’s my niece Polly and other friends. So that was my first job which was terrifying because I never worked for anybody before.
MGK So should we see if there are any questions?
Betsy Sussler Tina I have a question, and that is: when you first started doing the portraits do you have acting in mind? Were you telling people where to stand, what to think, how to pose? Clearly you had their relationships in mind.
TB You mean, in my own work?
BS In the portraiture. Yes, in your own work.
TB Funnily enough, I never think of it as portraiture. Starting way back from the very beginning… I’ve lectured about this, and it takes kind of a long time to show the progression. It was a slow stepping stone of wanting to say something very specific. I had a narrative in mind. That was the thing that was so kind of historical really, in the beginning of stage photography that happened in the ’80s. It came about with really kind of the frustration of really trying to say something. Prior to that you had the street photographers, Gary Winter Grand, Leif Freelander, who would never alter anything whatsoever or tell somebody to do something for the sake of the narrative. To break that kind of rigor, or it was almost like a law, was a big deal. So I basically said for somebody to move from some place to the next, in order to say something. And because I was so interested in making a very complicated structure or composition. Because in learning about painting, from the Italian Renaissance painters to the Dutch 17th-century painters, they worked so hard in trying to bring the viewer into the work of art to make it interesting. So both those things together I definitely was constructing or directing from the very beginning.
Audience Member 2 So in that photograph you took called The Painting, you know in the summer house, over the mantel… .
TB Oh The Landscape?
Audience Member 2 The Landscape.
TB It’s a woman standing in front of a painting?
Audience Member 2 Well, there were about five. The father in his proper vineyard vines is leaning one way, the family and summer… .
TB There are three people in the painting? That’s called The Landscape.
Audience Member 2 That’s amazing. Did you direct that, any movement in there? Or was it… .?
TB It’s a fine line between… . I told the woman to stand in front of the painting, and the two men to stand on either side. I was about this close to them, which is very close with a view camera and lights and all that kind of thing. Then they moved. It’s just a combination of directing and happenstance or phenomena or whatever you want to call it.
Audience Member 3 For the Castelli photograph, did you consciously put them in front of a barren fireplace? An empty fireplace? To me it’s very symbolic.
TB No, I didn’t think of that because it was symbolic. You know, he was quite old.
Audience Member 3 Oh, I know he was an old… 90-year old.
TB So I don’t think—I mean this is pretty far back to remember—he was sitting down, so I didn’t have many choices. I did not think about the empty fireplace. The room was very empty. There was nothing else in it. I didn’t have that many choices. I didn’t consciously do that.
Audience Member 3 No, it’s interesting about the unconscious and the accident.
BS When did the idea of theater come into play?
TB Probably 1990, because that’s when Janet came to me with her two friends, who said, “Do you mind to photograph the Wooster Group?,” and I loved it so much that I said, Okay, I want to do more of this. So that’s how that happened.
Audience Member 4 What are you working on now? What are your projects?
TB I’ve been photographing in New England, near where I live, events around this small town that I live in that again have to do with tradition and ritual, but also have to do with the people of the town. I photographed a stone carver, a welder, then I photograph parades. I photograph things like Renaissance-ean fairs, Civil War reenactments. I’ve been doing this kind of thing for five years now. The reason it takes so long is it’s very hard to find interesting subject matter. So I’m basically going back to being a street photographer, driving around with the equipment just trying to find things.
Audience Member 5 When you find something you want to photograph, exactly what is your technique? How much do you shoot? How do you prepare? Do you set up the lighting first?
TB I’m going to answer that very quickly. It takes one hour to set up the lights with my assistant. I’ve never taken longer than that typically. One hour to take the picture, and I rarely have taken more than that. No matter what I do, no matter how complicated it is, no matter how many people are in the job, whether it’s commercial or whatever. It’s usually never taken longer than those two hours.
Audience Member 5 How much film do you shoot?
TB In the beginning, this is what was very different—because I use a 4’ x 5’ and have since 1981. I shot a lot of film, and I shoot very fast. That’s what was very different. I didn’t think about costs, which I was very lucky to not have to think about. In teaching now, a lot of the students… that’s one of the things that cripples them in using a view camera. So I was using it really like a motor drive almost. That’s how you get a lot of these chances. That’s how that happened. Also, I moved fast. I’ve very clumsy, but that’s how I got a lot of those results.
Audience Member 5 I just love how relaxed it is.
Audience Member 6 I was wondering how you got involved with Index magazine and if you could tell us about that shoot with Daniel?
TB Oh well, Peter Halley came to me and asked me if I would do the covers. Each year they asked an artist to do the covers… Bob Nickas—does anybody know Bob Nickas—brilliant, brilliant. He was the person I would communicate with. They would just come to me and say, “You’re going to photograph Ellen Gallagher”… . Those kids were just very quick. I don’t even remember talking to them. It was very fast. I did that with a 35mm camera. It was very unusual because we went outside and went down to Manhattan, way to the end of Manhattan, to photograph that.
Audience Member 7 Do you ever photograph without people in it?
TB No. I’ve tried and they’re really boring. I would like to. I have tried, so I really respect that.
In 1995, BOMB said of Tina Barney’s photography: “Often described as a combination of Monet and Henry James, the photographs are more like Walker Evans taken through the looking glass.” Her newly released book Players serves as a hand-held retrospective which juxtaposes the photographs of her career spanning from commercial fashion photography, editorial projects, and personally-commissioned portraiture.
Edited and designed by Chip Kidd, Players not only showcases some of Barney’s unpublished work, but also gives her well-known photos new context.
Michele Gerber-Klein is a writer on fashion and photography, and has conducted several interviews with photographers for BOMB, including Robert Polidori and Richard Pare.
If the soul and the ego were objects we could look at, the soul would be a translucent heart beating.