ALLISON BARNES: THE DAILYS

BY ELLEN WALLENSTEIN

MAKING A PHOTOGRAPH ON AN 8X10 SHEET OF FILM WITH A LARGE FORMAT CAMERA IS A MEDITATIVE PROCESS. IT MAKES ONE SLOW DOWN, CONSIDER, LOOK AGAIN: PRE-VISUALIZE WHAT ONE THINKS ONE MIGHT HAVE IN THE FRAME, AND THEN GIVE IN TO THE MAGIC AND SERENDIPITY OF THE PROCESS. WORKING ALONE ONE NEEDS A LONG CABLE RELEASE AND SOME NERVE. THE CONTACT PRINT IS A TERTIARY RELIC: AFTER THE FILM ITSELF IT REPRESENTS THE LIGHT OF THAT PARTICULAR INSTANT. THE CAMERA BECOMES A PRESENCE AS WELL AS A MIRROR.

THE OLD PROCESS AND MACHINERY HAS UNEXPECTED MISTAKES AND DELIGHTS. ALLISON CHOSE IT LONG AGO AND KEEPS AT IT, ONE SHEET AT A TIME. THESE PHOTOGRAPHS ARE IN HER OWN WORDS “SOUVENIRS OF A LIFE LIVED AND KEYS IN AN ATLAS OF EXPERIENCE”. THE ANTIQUARIAN EQUIPMENT IS A DIRECT LINK FOR HER FROM THE PAST TO THE PRESENT, AS THE HERE AND NOW EXISTS PRECARIOUS AND FLEETING.

THE DAILY OF IT. PHOTOGRAPHY AS A PRACTICE AND MEDITATION, MARKING THE SPECIFICS OF PLACE AND TIME. 2012, SAVANNAH, GEORGIA, THE SOUTH. WHERE THE SCALE OF NATURE SUITS HER. ELEPHANT EARS AND LIVE OAK TREES, BANANA LEAVES, CACTUS, SUNFLOWERS. HER TURF, HER LAND, HER HOUSE, HER JOURNEYS. SOME OF ALLISON’S EARLIER WORKS ARE FROM DIFFERENT LANDSCAPES- MARKING REMAINS AND REMNANTS OF OTHERS WHO TRAVELLED THERE. PETROGLYPHS AND CENTURIES-OLD ROCKS AND TREES; TURTLES STILL HOLDING HISTORY IN THEIR AGED SHELLS.

THESE SELF-PORTRAITS ARE A DIFFERENT KIND OF MARKING, OF A SHORTER DURATION: A GRAIN OF SAND, A WHISPER. IN THE FIRST PICTURE OF THE SERIES SHE STANDS TENTATIVELY IN THE GARDEN, THE LONG CABLE RELEASE DISAPPEARING INTO THE LANDSCAPE, CONNECTING HER TO THE SHUTTER. JULY 3, SO APTLY TITLED “THE PLOT”. THE GARDEN AND BACKYARD APPEAR IN MANY OF THE UPCOMING IMAGES, FROM DIFFERENT VANTAGE POINTS AND WITH DIFFERING FOCUSES. THE SERIES SHOW THE GROWTH OF VEGETATION (NOT TO MENTION HERSELF, AS AN ARTIST AND A WOMAN) OVER A SUMMER PLANTING SEASON, AS PART OF THE LARGER FRAMEWORK OF HER LIFE. THE BACK YARD, THE PRIVATE SPACE OUTSIDE WHERE SHE MAY REVEL/REVEAL HERSELF TO HERSELF.

THE SECOND DAY WAS THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF HER RELATIONSHIP WITH RICK, THE PARTNER WITH WHOM SHE SHARES HER LIFE, DOCUMENTED AT A JULY 4TH CELEBRATION. THEY SIT ON A BLANKET IN THE MIDDLE OF A FIELD, SHARP IN THE FOREGROUND LOOKING AT THE CAMERA WHILE MIRACULOUS OUT-OF-FOCUS FIREWORKS LIGHT UP THE SKY ABOVE AND BEHIND THEM. RICK APPEARS IN SEVERAL OF THESE PHOTOGRAPHS FROM TIME TO TIME. WE SEE HIM WITH HER IN THE BEDROOM, IN THE BATHTUB, IN THE YARD WITH THEIR DOGS AND TOMATO PLANTS AND TREES. HE IS AN ANCHOR FOR HER. SHE MAKES PICTURES IN THEIR HOUSE, USING THEIR OBJECTS AS STILL LIFE ELEMENTS, SOMETIMES POSING AMONG THEM.

SHE PHOTOGRAPHS HERSELF AS A FIGURE IN THE LANDSCAPE, INSIDE AND OUTSIDE, MID-DISTANCE AND CLOSE UP, BARING HERSELF AND HER SOUL. THE PHOTOGRAPHS ARE ROMANTIC AND SENSUAL, ICONIC IMAGES OF A YOUNG WOMAN. SEVERAL EVOKE TONI FRISSELL OR IMOGEN CUNNINGHAM OR JULIA MARGARET CAMERON. IN SOME INSTANCES SHE RESEMBLES THEDA BARA, THE SILENT FILM ACTRESS; IN OTHERS, HER POLISH ANCESTORS OR PERSONS FROM AN EARLIER ERA.

IN MANY OF THE IMAGES ALLISON IS NUDE, OR NAKED, OR WITHOUT MUCH CLOTHING ON. THIS CREATES NOT ONLY AN INTIMACY BUT A TIMELESSNESS, AS ANY EVIDENCE OF “NOW” IS ERASED. SHE IS COMFORTABLE IN HER BODY, UN-SELF-CONSCIOUS, BARING HERSELF (LITERALLY) TO THE CAMERA, LOOKING AT HERSELF UNFLINCHINGLY AND WITH CANDOR. THE NAKEDNESS IS HONEST AND NATURAL AND SEEMS INEVITABLE.

SOMETIMES SHE SHOWS US ALL OF HER, SOMETIMES JUST A PART- A HAND (OUTSTRETCHED HOLDING A ROBIN’S EGG - JULY 9, OR PEEKING UP FROM UNDER A TABLE’S EDGE AS PART OF A STILL LIFE - AUGUST 1). WE SEE HER FEET, HER LEGS, HER BACK; WE SEE HER BEHIND A CURTAIN OR OUTSIDE THE WINDOW OR AS A GHOST SITTING ON A CHAIR. WE SEE HER WITH HER DOGS OR WITH RICK OR WITH A FRIEND WITH WHOM SHE’S SPENT THE DAY. SHE IS DIFFERENT EVERYDAY, TRYING ON VARIOUS DISTANCES FROM THE CAMERA AND ROLES TO REPRESENT.

AS WE PERUSE THE PICTURES WE ALSO SEE THE PLACES THAT ARE SPECIAL TO HER. WE KNOW ABOUT HER LIFE, THROUGH WHERE SHE CHOOSES TO MAKE PHOTOGRAPHS. IN MOST OF THIS PERIOD OF TIME SHE MADE HER HOME IN GEORGIA, THOUGH SHE TRAVELLED A FEW TIMES, TO THE BEACH AND THE FOREST, AND HER PARENTS’ HOME. AT THE LATTER SHE PHOTOGRAPHED HERSELF WITH HER DAD AND DOGS IN THEIR BACK YARD; WITH HER MOTHER AT THE KITCHEN TABLE (IN CURLERS) INSIDE THE HOUSE; AND EVEN A FEW NUDES THERE (AUGUST 4 “HALLWAY LOOKING AT MOM” AND AGAIN AUGUST 20 “MOM’S SOLARIUM”).

IT IS WITH HER PARENTS THAT SHE MANAGES A SLIGHT SMILE, BUT IN MOST OF THE PHOTOS SHE IS SERIOUSLY FACING THE CAMERA, LOOKING AT THE LENS, WAITING AS ONE MUST WITH A LONG SHUTTER SPEED. ALLISON OBSERVES HERSELF, HER LIFE, HER OBJECTS, EXTRAORDINARILY. SHE IS ONE WITH THE PROCESS AND ONE WITH NATURE. AS EVIDENCED HERE, OVER FOUR MONTHS (AND CONTINUING) SHE’S CREATED A PERSONAL AND MOVING NARRATIVE THAT CELEBRATES HER SPECIFIC WORLD.

ELLEN WALLENSTEIN

NYC, MAY 2014