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INTRODUCTION The purpose of this essay is to introduce and analyze the work of photographer Uta Barth. She received a BA from the University of California at Davis in 1982 and an MFA from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1985. More biographical information is available here. The essay will cover her work from “Ground” body of work exhibited in 1994 to her lasts exhibited body of work “Compositions of Light on White” (2011). I will start introducing her recent works for the reader being able to identify prevalent characteristics in all of her past works as well as new features. First, the essay will focus in what it is evident in her photographic syntax in order to deep later in her involvement, formal approach, and the true subject of her work. I. PHOTOGRAPHIC SYNTAX. DESCRIPTIVE ELEMENTS. “To walk without Destination and to See only to See” is one of the last bodies of work by Uta Barth. It was exhibited in 2010. The following diptych belongs to this body of work:
UTA BARTH: To See… just to See
In 2011, Barth displays other works such as "And a white line to draw with light" and "Compositions of Light on White". The following images are from these collections:
"And a white line to draw with light". ((Untitled 11.5
"Compositions of Light on White". Composition no. 5 In different bodies of work we can notice these elements in common: High key images and dominance of white or light colors. In the picture "And a white line to draw with light" we find curved lines, white over white, predomination of straight lines and geometric shapes. This is common in other bodies of work as "Ground" (1994). From the pictures that made it up, Ground 36, 38 Ground, Ground 45, 66 Ground, Ground 78, among others, had this type of simple compositions, in which white predominates in different tones revealed by the direction of light .
Use of poliptychs with harmonic compositions which share elements of visual communication. For example, in the first diptych from "To walk without destination and to see only to see" we can see the repetition of lines. His legs are lines perpendicular to the floor, the floor design also shows perpendicular lines. The tree is taken from a vantage point that highlights the lines formed by the branches. One can see a contrast between tones: the shadow is dark, the floor is clear. There is tension between the lines that form the shadows of the legs and the floor. However, the small leaves and warm colors balance the composition and create a visually harmonic image. The second image of the diptych is complementary to the first one through repetition and contrast. The leaves are repeated, wavy lines instead of straight lines create contrast, the white background creates contrast with the shade of its legs. The diptychs of her bodies of work have continuity through repetition of elements or through the visual continuity established by the lines between the two images. Poliptychs started to become more common in the work of Barth starting with “Nowhere Near” (1999) in which Barth explores the movement from outer space seen from the inside through the windows of her home:
Untitled (nw 9)
“Nowhere Near”. nw 6 In this regard, Pamela Lee (2004) points out that Barth started using diptychs and triptychs "to analyze the mechanics of a visual double take: that moment in perceiving the world passively in which one catches sight of a detail arrests briefly that vision, compelling the beholder to look again ". Thereafter, almost all the works of Barth are presented as serials in diptychs, triptychs or poliptychs always exhibited in a horizontal position. Graphics and color combined with the images. Since her first exhibitions, but especially in "White Blind (Blind Red)" 2002, pictures are displayed with graphic elements that are central to the message and not just complementary part of the museography. White Blind (2002)
Blurred Images. In "Ground" (1994) and "Field" (1995) there are completely blurred images, usually taken in urban spaces. These images are composed of straight or curved lines with an appearance of softness thanks to blur. We can see circles formed by lights. Compositions are simple, with few elements.
Presence of the photographer. Returning to her most recent bodies of work: "To walk without destination and to see only to see" and "And a white line to draw with light" there is something that can be seen as unusual in her work (From 1994 on), the very presence of the photographer by including their shadow and the inclusion of the human figure. We can say that at the time of this analysis, Barth's work can be seen as a circle. In this moments she has a mature work which incorporates elements of her first bodies of work, capture the essential characteristics that defined her style integrated in a new collection which is innovative and fresh. These are pieces that hold a thread of continuity with the past works but are fresh, with a new approach. Especially, “To walk mostly without destination and to see only to see." II. PHOTOGRAPHIC SYNTAX. DEEPENING IN MEANING AND FORMAL APPROACH. Recognizing the common elements in the works of Barth is easy. Understanding the complexity and her approach to art photography requires knowing the point of view of Barth and her critics. In researching more about her work, the value and dimension of his proposal increases. Barth's work has several layers in which it can be interpreted. However, an interesting thing about her proposal is that without reading critiques, Barth draws attention to her simple, evocative images, with which visual power calls for looking. Her imagery is easily accessible to the average viewer who at least in intuitively recognizes the focus of Barth in marginality and light. The viewer is caught with such powerful images that could actually see all the time in everyday spaces, if essentially he would be aware. Thus, Barth draws attention to the act of seeing. The involvement of the photographer is not artistic representational although it may seem. When we observe leaves, everyday objects and spaces, windows, trees in her work, we might think so. Barth's work is part of a constructed involvement. Her photographs are still life and abstractions achieved through different decisions. As we discussed in Module 8, abstractions simplify the forms of a visible object. Barth's contribution is that this is done through light, often simplified figures are produced by light. “The Ground Have not literally series "event" or subject other than the light that falls on to an environment ", said Barth (Highs, 11). While modernist abstractions worked in shadows in the past, Barth focuses more in light that in shadows and high contrast. In "To walk without destination and to see only to see" we return to see this. The presence of the photographer is abstracted, becomes shadow and line, produced by light: light on the floor of a street. On the other hand, Barth does not hide or disguise the reference as in the modernist abstractions. She does not play to the audience "guessing" about what we are observing. We can clearly see floor and walls. We are able to see that these images are blurred cityscapes. Barth focus all her work in the process of perception, vision, gaze, time and light. She says: "The question for me always is how can I make you aware of our own activity of looking, instead of losing your attention to thoughts about what It Is that you are looking at" (Barth in Lee, 2004).
With this in mind, the photographer challenges several photographic conventions. One of the most contentious is the issue of having "subject matter". Besides the already mentioned, Barth achieves this through the use of blur, which becomes a form of abstraction. Focus is one of the photographic conventions that has evolved in photography Hirsch (2011) points out how Julia Cameron innovated with the selective focus which nowadays is an essential part of photographic aesthetics. The author also mentions how the blur technique that interposes a motion and uncertainty in the photograph. He talks about how the blur expresses and shows how the loss of focus released images from photographic accuracy offering a different representation of reality. Interestingly, much of what Hirsch mentions in more detail about the blur is not what Barth expresses using blur. She has also extended the aesthetics of the blur. Tomas Martin (2000) explains that from a structuralist point of view, a photograph is an emanation of the referent. In his opinion an unfocused photograph is an emanation of the referent and the lens being together, something that sharp focus usually conceals; then the lens become invisible. Based on his opinion, we can say then that Barth is challenging the way we see through a camera and it is making evident that we are so used to the possibility of seeing all very sharp that we forget this is not the way we see. Sheryl Conkelton (1996) explains that “The images in the Field series mimic cinematic framing conventions in a subtle query of the visual structures that imply movement or activity in the foreground”. Then, by focusing in the background, and loosing the feeling of foreground and background, the spectator is invited to simplify and see the enchanment of the image, to interpret, to look for clues… there is confusion but a very softly way due to the aesthetics of the blur. Barth also comments on another photographic conventions: time. Especially in “Nowhere Near” (1999). Where she took photographs for a year from inside her house. We can see how light changes what it is viewed. This somehow looks like a “documentary” of light. We know what is outside but we discover how different it looks according to the day. Again, Barth does not play very much with the possibilities of the equipment to make look something different. There are very dark images that could be clearer chaning ISO sensibility and speed but that is not what the photographer need to make her point. White Blind (Blind Red) 2002 is her more complex work conceptually and one of the simplest if we see this repetition of trees. It is the abstraction of her own work. When asked “what are you working on now? She answered“ It’s just the tree outside my window” It’s not longer even the window; it’s just the tree.” Higgs (2004). However, she plays with the viewer deeply. She is not calling just to see but to be disoriented by seeing. There are many repetitions and suddenly visual interruptions of colored panels or panels in color that include abstractions of branches. It is a constant experience of looking and enjoying in an aesthetic level but also an intellectual exercise.
This balance between a very conceptual work and very powerful message in an aesthetic level is unique in her work. It may be explained by her influences. Barth declares that most of her influences does not come for photography. She does not like people simplifying her work comparing it to pictorialism. She says to Highs (2004) that she sees this as very simplistic. In the same interview, the photographer talks about her influences, most coming from other fields such as architecture, sculpture, conceptual art. CONCLUSION Barth's work is innovative and has been a cornerstone of photography in the late twentieth century and early twenty-‐first because of its contribution to the aesthetic and the conceptual. On the aesthetic level, she presents simple abstractions which by their color and compositional elements communicate on an emotional level and not just in an intellectual level. As a viewer there is a feeling of harmony, closeness and tranquility that I feel when seeing her images. We can enjoy her images as "Experience". In the course "Language of Photography" we talk about Experience: “mood, inflection, form, and rhythm are so integrated to the imagery. The resultant experience is as Important, if not more so, than the subject matter itself ". It is Not necessary to have information about Barth’s work to be moved by her images. As abstractions, the viewer can interpret them in many ways. Even if Barth has rejected it, the viewer can observe themes such as an inquiry of her own space and be identified because she recognizes her own daily life, because she is taken to see the light that usually does not see. Sheryl Conkenton (1996) comments: “In both the Ground and Field series there are multiple possibilities: to respond to the photographs as images of something, as objects in a room with particular visual and physical relationships, and as critical inquiry into the nature of photographic representation and its limits.” The photographer challenges several photographic conventions as the vision itself and the representation of time, the issue of having "subject matter" and so advances the photographic language. Barth comments about perception and vision in a clear, compelling, intimate and accessible way for a common viewer. She is able to establish a perfect balance between form and concept. Her images give the feeling of being there, being part of, or feel her authorship and voice in the image. She does not wears out making things too complex dependent on tools and equipment. Thus, returns to the essence of the picture and makes it her theme: view light and portray light. Insisting on Beholding. Body of Work inspired and Influenced by Uta Barth.
Insisting on Beholding. Untitled 1
When I was 17 I wore glasses for the first time and discovered that the world was not a series of impressionistic images as I perceived it. Most of the time I just perceived light, shadow, smooth contours. It took me until that age to discover that I needed glasses because for me my vision was normal. Back then, I remember putting on my glasses seeing a flower with an intense color that could not believe. It was perfectly delineated too. The image shocked me almost to tears. I learned to recognize the world in this way. I also became very good observer. My need of seeing took me to become a good beholder. A few years ago, not knowing Barth, took some pictures of my white shutters and a flower pot shadow projected on them, the light of a chair in the table cloth, etcetera. My last body of work “Cachitos” (bits) focus on unseen scenes of the street. Some of these images, were light on surfaces. When I discovered the work of Barth, I was amazed. I felt finding something familiar. I felt it was like finding a tutor, a path to walk.
Nohemí Lugo. 2008.
Nohemí Lugo. “Cachitos”, 2011. Untitled.
In this series, I tried to take different elements learned by observing and reading Barth’s work. first I intended to see where we never see as an awareness exercise. All photographs were taken at my home, my workplace and the places that usually walk by: near my home or near my work. I tried to take from "Ground" the focus on light and the carefree attitude about viewers being able to see common spaces where it is projected. Unlike Barth, who has disclosed no clear intention with the space itself, I do take up the idea of inviting the viewer of my own space to share with him my subjective and abstracted view about what I usually see. The series also takes from "Nowhere Near" the concept of time. As seen in “Nowhere Near “ the light changes. This is a direct reference to Barth in the images of the windows. These are from my backyard. In part, they make a bit of derision to the idyllic images of the trees we see in the work of Barth. In this case, we see everyday things: a broom, a bathtub for my baby, hanging clothes. This points to my own current personal, geographical and cultural reality. The outdoors images of the series retake "To walk without destination and to see only to see" in two senses: the insistence on the act of seeing and photographing everyday so and ignored, sidewalks and floors are usually marginal in our view, as it is heaven on many occasions. We look ahead, look at the floor not directly and sometimes just not to fall. We may be thinking and even though our look is directed to the floor, we do not see it because “it does not offer anything interesting to look”. As in the backyard photos from, the series, in my photographs we can see not only idyllic elements like flowers. There is a cigar throw away by the side of beautiful flowers fallen from a tree, pineapple husks are a waste that ironically beautifies the space. In a stylistic level, images intended to be minimal, with few elements. In the entire series can be seen images closer to Barth and ultimately images that only works for inspiration. The series also has a subtle influence of Laura Letinsky, from whom I take the idea of alluding to human presence without any actual human figure portrayed in the scene. Sources Barth, Uta. Nowhere Near. (2000). Los Angeles: Acme. Conkelton, S. (2000). “Uta Barth in conversation with Sheryl Conkelton, 1996”. In Between Places. Henry Art Gallery. Conkelton, S. (2000). “In Between Places”. In Between Places. Henry Art Gallery. Higgs M. (2004). “In conversation with Uta Barth”. Interview. Uta Barth. Paidon. Hirsch, R. (2011). Exploring Color Photography. China: Focal Press. Fifth Edition.
Uta Barth. Biography. full/bio/?artist_name=Uta%20Barth http://www.guggenheim.org/new-‐york/collections/collection-‐online/show-‐
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