Top Image: Chris Verene, My Cousin Steve With His Daughter, His Wife Had Just Left Them, 1992
Bottom Image: Tina Barney, Marina's Room, 1987
Seeing the announcement for Chris Verene's new book Family (available from TwinPalms Press), made me think back to some of Tina Barney's earlier work - this thought occurred to me not only because of the inherent similarity and overwhelming discrepancy in terms of subject matter, but also because of conversations that have been taking place in the Memory & The Photograph seminar. I think it might be useful for students to have a look at these two very different photographic representations of family, especially as they relate to our discussions of autobiographical memory and identity formation.
Here is an excerpt from the press release from Verene's recent exhibition at Postmasters in New York:
Chris Verene's first show at Postmasters will present over forty photographs made during the past twenty-six years. This landmark exhibition of documentary storytelling chronicles a group of closely-knit characters from the photographer's family and their rural Illinois community. The photographer is also one of the characters-- his blood bonds and bonds of friendship within the small town are carefully spelled out in simple handwritten captions atop the colorful pictures. Verene's new book, "Family," published this summer, contains many of the images on view - it opens with his cousin Candi's divorce. Candi was made famous when her wedding picture appeared on the cover of Verene's first book ten years ago. Both husband and wife were fired in the Maytag factory closing described in President Obama's first address to the United States in 2004 and in the 2010 State of the Union. Theirs is not the only family torn apart by the economic struggles of the country, as Verene documents other similar stories. The exhibition will also bring to light recent developments in the artist's intimate life, as his young child, Nico, Brooklyn-born and half-Puerto Rican, appears throughout the latest photographs, playing with his cousins and newfound friends in Galesburg. This show will offer an extraordinary, inspiring, hopeful, and sometimes sorrow-filled view into the true personal stories and private lives of the artist's immediate and extended family in their small community as photographed throughout a lifetime in economically depressed Galesburg, Illinois. Museums currently showing Verene's work include The Tate Modern, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and The New Orleans Museum of Art.
Above content from Postmasters Gallery
And here is an excerpt from the overview of "So The Story Goes" - an exhibition that included Barney's work at The Art Institute of Chicago:
Tina Barney has said, “I began photographing what I knew.” For much of the 1980s and 1990s, this meant taking pictures of her friends and family as they went about their daily lives in affluent areas of Long Island, New York City, and New England. Employing a large-format, 8-by-10-view camera enabled her to create highly detailed images that retain their focus and richness even when made into four-by-five-foot prints. Barney was thus one of the first photographers to present color work on a grand scale that rivaled most twentieth-century paintings. This scale also inspired a deliberate construction of the picture, at times requiring supplementary lighting and the direction of the sitters.
Barney’s photographs expose the emotional and psychological currents that course just beneath the surfaces of perfect trappings and banal gestures. In Jill and Polly in the Bathroom, such tension is evident in Jill’s strained expression, Polly’s turn away from Jill, and the distance between them that persists even in the cramped quarters of such a small room. Barney notes, “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 we can do. This inability to show physical affection is in our heritage.” While the myth that material comfort ensures personal contentment is an alluring one, Barney’s photographs undermine such illusions, even in later images in which the focus has shifted away from context to the personality and face of the sitter. In these more recent photographs of family and friends—many of which eliminate her directorial approach and allow for more self-presentation to the camera—Barney continues to make photographs distinct from family snapshots or formal group portraits in their refusal to serve as predictable commemorations of happy times, important gatherings, and ritualized affection.
Above content from The Art Institute of Chicago