Barbara negotiating with Tomas Carague in Panajachel, Guatemala
Photo by Donna Tang
GODS AND MONSTERS
"The assimilation of styles and motifs from African cultural artifacts into the work of avant-garde artists was a means of challenging conventional western aesthetic values and hierarchies that reflected what those artists perceived as a vacuous and moribund society. In looking to these sources to invigorate their own creative visions, what these artists actually discovered were new ways of seeing and making art."
~ Wendy A. Grossman
editor, Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens
"[Man Ray freed] photography from its documentary function to become an object in its own right; an object that could just as well be used to conjure the world of dream as its more common employment in capturing the world of everyday vision."
~ Anthony Shelton
in Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens
I am drawn to Mexican and Guatemalan cultural objects—masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, and toys—for reasons similar to those of Man Ray and the modernists, who in their case were drawn to African art. On trips to southern Mexico and Guatemala I frequent local mask shops, markets, and bazaars searching for the figures that will later populate my photographs. How, why, when, and where these objects come into my life is an important part of the process. I take very old objects with a unique Mexican or Guatemalan past—most have been used in religious festivals—and give them a second life, so to speak, in New York in the present. When I return home I read prodiogiously and find out as much about them as I can.
The chromogenic prints in the Gods and Monsters series are experiments in which I relinquish control. Basic picture-taking techniques, like focusing and composing an image in the rangefinder, are abandoned. I use film and eschew digital manipulations in both shooting and printing the images. I photograph through colored plastic gels to add shapes and colors, to abstract and otherwise render details unrecognizable, and to create dreamlike scenarios. Each image is an unrepeatable surprise. Always I am letting go, breaking habits learned as a painter and a photographer, exploring, and seeing what will happen. In this series I am “painting with a camera,” creating variations that free my camera from being a mechanical recording device of what lies before it.