On February 15, 2011, photographer Tina Barney spoke on campus about her career and her experience photographing Vassar for the exhibition, 150 Years Later: New Photography by Tina Barney, Tim Davis, and Katherine Newbegin. Here is an excerpt from the question and answer portion of the evening. An excerpt of Barney’s lecture will be in the upcoming issue of Art at Vassar.
Question: It seems to me in some of the pictures that you took here at Vassar there is a very direct look between the person in the photograph and the camera. Is this something that you intentionally did or did it just happen?
Tina Barney: In the very early pictures, I was interested in looking into another human being and finding something that describes the entire life or spirit of that human being. In the Vassar pictures, my approach was more an attempt to show an environment instead of a specific human being. I was using the people in the picture as almost symbols. And I do that sometimes. But I really wasn’t thinking specifically about the subject.
First, the girl in the pool gave me that look. And that is when you find a great subject- that I call a “gift”. There is no way that I could have directed her to do that. She did that. That was her decision to do that. And I showed her the Polaroid. She knows what she is doing the whole time. She gave me that. So that was a combination of getting that gift and that deciding to go with this and saying “I like it.”
The girl in the lounge was so far away from me that I didn’t exactly see as much what was going on her face as much as the overall scene. Both of those girls were very together, they knew who they were, you don’t get that all the time. So it wasn’t exactly me wanting that- just receiving what was there.