Magazine article Artforum International

Portfolio: Tina Barney

Magazine article Artforum International

Portfolio: Tina Barney

Article excerpt

If you remember Francis Minturn Sedgwick (aka "Duke" and "Fuzzy") at all, you'll remember him as a great beached wreck of a man, the disabling patriarch at the heart of Jean Stein and George Plimpton's 1982 account of the flare up and burn out of his daughter and Factory phenomenon Edie. In contrast to the old-line It Girl's by now remarkably durable fifteen minutes, Sedgwick senior's star signaled weakly against the backdrop of his times. Vessel of class privilege and vaguely fascist sentiment, Fuzzy was given to lording about his lands in skimpy trunks, hitting on the female houseguests, and conferring upon his blond brood a veritable thesaurus of pet names: Miss Rincus, Pamelagraph, Weedles (the last for young Edith). Fuzzy was, in short, the sort of "poor big rich man" who would fit right into Tina Barney's ongoing photographic chronicle of eastern-seaboard gentility.

Of course, had the loopy paterfamilias shown up in a Barney shot, he would not have suffered the pointed contours of my cartoon. For as truth-telling as Barney's pictures may be, they are those of an insider and, as such, wholly absent of caste resentment. If a spate of grand-touring has lately tempted the photographer beyond her habitual hedgerows, this quartet of new images (shot last summer in Britain) suggests that what her wanderlust has brought is, well, more poor big rich people. Take the gentle gentleman on the overleaf (The Ancestor, 2001): Does his painted forebear loom heavy at his shoulder? Are the porcelain and portraits as much rebuke as consolation? For all we know, our sympathies could be misplaced: Our poor big rich man might even be a rich big rich man. As disingenuous as it may seem to say of images so immersed in milieu, the narratives they invite us to weave are only half the story.

Of past work, Barney has explained that while she searches out the pregnant moment, she never simply clicks, but rather solicits the collaboration of her subjects in reconjuring the instant--however close on the heels of the observed event. Indeed, despite their sense of keyhole vantage, Barney's pictures retain a certain staginess. …

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