For nearly half a century, Tina Barney has photographed her family and their affluent summer community in Rhode Island. She imbues the studied perfection of her large-format color images with the immediacy and spontaneity of family snapshots. It took years of relentless looking through her camera’s lens to capture the vitality of an improvised moment on a negative large enough to hold detail even when enlarged to 4 × 5 feet—an almost unimaginable scale when she first pursued it. Time in quarantine—a period of reflection for many of us—prompted Barney to revisit these earliest color pictures.
Tina Barney. Water Slide in the Fog. 1979
During winters in Idaho she attended photography workshops at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. It was there in 1976 that she became interested in producing larger work, after Peter de Lory taught her to make oversize prints by agitating chemicals over the surface of photographic paper using garbage bags in a sink: few darkrooms were equipped to manage anything larger than 16 × 20 inches. And it was there that she took a color photography workshop with Mark Klett.
Sunday New York Times. 1982
Making large prints from small negatives wasn’t optimal—there simply isn’t enough information in the negative—so in 1981 she began working with a 4 x 5-inch view camera that required a tripod in order for the image to be in focus. Barney describes her photos from that year as “stiff,” but by 1982 she had coaxed some of my most beloved images from that cumbersome setup. One of the best known of these early large-scale color photos is Sunday New York Times, which was included less than a year after it was made in an exhibition at MoMA, Big Pictures by Contemporary Photographers. Given how commonplace large prints have become, It’s a challenge to remember just how unusual it was to make them at that time. For this Artist Project, we’ve asked Tina Barney to share with us a portfolio of some of her favorite summer images, reaching all the way back to her earliest photographs in black and white, and including a contact sheet of negative strips from her first color work in 1979.
Tennis Court. 1988
The Black Wall. 2005
Fraternal Twins. 2016
Bike Parade. 2017
The Tent. 2020