Paul Greenfield MFA, ARPS

Tina Barney (1945)

Tina Barney is an American photographer best known for her large-scale, color portraits of her family and close friends, many of whom are well-to-do denizens[clarification needed] of New York and New England.[2] She is a member of the Lehman family.

Tina Barney is an American photographer who was an early pioneer of colour photography using large scale 48” by 60” prints, taken with traditional view cameras. Her work is interesting from an artistic standpoint but also because she is a baby boomer herself, coming from a wealthy family descending from the original German bankers, Lehman Brothers. However, wealth didn’t give her the artistic freedom she yearned for. ‘I skied every day ... I decorated my house and my apartment as much as you could do … Had the parties, went to the parties … ‘.  (Barney 2017, p220). She then applied herself to photographic study and caught the attention of commentators through her use of vivid colours and for documenting her family, at their beautiful homes, wearing their expensive clothing.
Initially, reaction to her work was mixed: in the Afterword section of her monograph, Peter Galassi writes, ‘…  that the ultimate concern of much of the writing on Barney’s work seems to be … the writers … struggle to come to terms with disparities of wealth and privilege.’ (Barney 2017, p221)
Tina Barney found her treasure in photography and can portray her well-heeled relatives and friends in a way that she doesn’t find embarrassing. Recently, at the launch of her 2017 monograph, when questioned about her tendency to document the wealth and social status, she responded, ‘I never really think about it. It’s the viewer, the writer, the critic, who puts that subject matter on me. It’s almost not interesting for me to talk about it …’[1]
When asked about the millennial's view of her work, she went on to say, ‘… people that age already don’t really care about my photographs. I think they’re interested in things that go fast, and in otherworldly experiences.’

From a semiotic standpoint, Barney’s frequent direct eye contact with her family connotes an insider situation (this could be compared with Nixon). With a directorial style, she uses a large-format view camera, and studio lighting, to highlight vivid colours and objects d’art in great detail. Figure 15 (page 24) indicates an intimate family scene, with the cigarettes being used as a signpost to the dialogue that may have taken place: has the father admonished the daughter for smoking in her bedroom? Tina Barney has been able to group multiple generations of family in her body of portraiture work, frequently with a direct gaze into the camera, and what comes through is their willingness to trust her, which makes them appear entirely comfortable Figure 16 (page 24) in their sumptuous surroundings. Place is an important element in her work, but it is secondary to the people.

Tina Barney Hardcover – Illustrated, 19 Sept. 2017

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