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Barbara Crane Is All About the Mistakes


by Stephen Becker 18 Feb 2009

Justin Flowers is the host of the This Week in the Arts podcast. He sends along the following report about photographer Barbara Crane: “Babara Crane: Challenging Vision” opened at the Amon Carter Museum over the weekend. The exhibit is touted as the “first major retrospective of the photographer’s work in more than 25 years.” On […]

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Justin Flowers is the host of the This Week in the Arts podcast. He sends along the following report about photographer Barbara Crane:

“Babara Crane: Challenging Vision” opened at the Amon Carter Museum over the weekend. The exhibit is touted as the “first major retrospective of the photographer’s work in more than 25 years.” On Thursday, after interviewing Ms. Crane for This Week in the Arts, I was invited to the press opening of the exhibit with Barbara Crane as a guide.

When I arrived, the tour had already begun, and I squeezed my way into the group standing around a small-framed woman with steel-gray hair who was pointing at a photograph and talking about the size of the heads that lined the top of the image.

They, the heads, had to be a certain size, she said. These, the ones she had used, had been exactly the right size – any bigger, she told us, and they would have been incorrect for the proportions of the photograph.

To listen to Barbara Crane talk about her work is to listen to a mother articulate the virtues and short-comings of her children. She tells their stories in a raspy, matter-of-fact voice that whispers her dedication and devotion to them. Where this one started, where she was standing when that one was conceived, and how she dug this one over here out of the waste basket after realizing that it embodied a certain look that she had never laid eyes on.

To listen to Crane talk about her work is also to realize that she has poured her life into it.

The work itself is also a testament to that fact. It represents a lifetime in meticulously constructed images crafted from washed out faces, disembodied hands, headless bodies and random odds and ends that, at first, appear to reflect a career of disheveled miscellany.

Many of her works, she says, are birthed from random mistakes. And yet, as you walk through the galleries, stepping from one photograph to the next, one of them taken with an 8×10 exposure – the next with an instant Polaroid, you get a sense of the single-minded focus that has driven her photography and, one imagines, her life.

The mistakes, she says, become her focus. Her work revolves around those mistakes – first attempting to replicate them before diving head-first into perfecting them.

As I listened to her articulate her mistakes-gone-good, I couldn’t help but reflect on the effect mistakes have on evolution. And, much as one mistake in an evolutionary progression leads to a stronger organism, I imagine one mistake, amplified through the focus of an artist’s mind, leads to a stronger work.

“Barbara Crane: Challenging Vision” is free to the public and open until May 10. It’s certainly worth seeing, and when you’re finished – walk through again, take a second look, and try to find those “mistakes.”

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  • Wei Shen

    Barbara,
    Way to go!!! I am thrilled that it finally happened. It is exciting. You are truly “an American treasure”. Your total devotion to arts and photography is a source of inspiration to all regardless profession, interest, age, and nationality. Hope to see the exhibit in Detroit soon.