I met Barbara through a novelist writers group. While I moved from fiction to narrative non-fiction and essays, Barbara evolved into photography, painting, and poetry. This weekend Barbara will present her photo series about Cuba at Newton Open Studios. Here is her Artist Statement and a short essay I wrote about an image I admire.
Newton Open Studios, Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center, Saturday and Sunday, April 5-6; 11am-5pm; 333 Nahanton St, Newton, MA 02459
As a self-taught street photographer, I explore the relationships between people and their neighborhoods. I photograph a story in a person’s face. I imagine the interiors of people and am drawn to the vulnerabilities I see in strangers. Greys and ambiguity attract me—people alone in a crowd, a slice of life. In 40s and 50s Camden, NJ, my parents sent us out to play until dinner. There were niches to hide and experiment in, family-owned stores, my father’s drugstore and alleyways, neighbors raking who were willing to lend an egg. I look for those settings today—in the US and abroad. I was 14 when my grandfather died and relatives were just arriving from the 1956 Hungarian uprising. An older cousin sat in our kitchenette shelling walnuts with my mother for the family celebration. When I asked her about the blue numbers on his arm, she asked me to polish the silver. They told me of the relatives who hadn’t come and I decided to hitchhike in Europe: I learned to be comfortable with strangers. I hitched through Europe and started a travel journal. That led me to writing seriously about stories I saw in the outside world and within my own emotional world. As a young mother on a writing fellowship to MacDowell Colony, I met the American photographer, Ruth Orkin. We shared our love of visual poetry in ordinary, workaday worlds of people alone and together—spontaneous street scenes, melodramas, funny, moody and intimate moments. I lived in Mexico in 1988. The storytelling seemed to enter my photography. I returned from Mexico to train as an ethnographer. This is my evolution as a narrative photographer attracted to ordinary people in daily lives and to scenes that raise questions.
Paul Fallon’s response to The Street:
I see three young men leaning against a wall. I see three individuals teetering between autonomy and connection. I see three neighbors who don’t quite touch, caught in the push-pull of attraction and repulsion.
The man on the left, looking away and around the corner from the others, appears independent, but the force of his shoe on the wall and his cocked elbow reveal the energy line flowing to his opposite. The man in the center balances that energy with the same ease he balances the iron-grilled window and heavy sill upon his head. His attention is to the right where the third man shrugs—in question or indifference.
On first glance, the men personify three uncomfortable neighbors—the United States, Cuba, and Haiti. Countries who pretend their watery borders are more distant than reality measures. Each man could represent any of those nations since we alternatively ignore, doubt, and miscommunicate with each other.
But the immediacy of the scene ratchets me to a more personal view. Couldn’t I be any of these men? Don’t I feign autonomy, claim the center, and become exasperated daily, explaining what is clear to me yet foreign to others? The Street is the image of three discrete men who, through word and gesture, create fragile community.