Tina Barney (American, b.1945) The Librarian, 2010, Chromogenic color print © Tina Barney Courtesy of the artist and Janet Borden, Inc.

For today’s post, student docent Anna Rogulina interviewed Thomas Hill, Vassar College Art Librarian and the subject of Tina Barney’s photograph, “The Librarian”. The photograph is featured in the Art Center’s current exhibition, 150 Years Later: New Photography by Tina Barney, Tim Davis, and Katherine Newbegin. Tina Barney will lecture about her work on Tuesday, February 15th at 5PM in Taylor Hall, Room 102.

Anna Rogulina: How did your meeting and subsequent photo shoot with Tina Barney come about?
Thomas Hill: Some time in 2009, while Tina Barney was on campus scouting locations/subjects for the project, Mary-Kay Lombino introduced us in the Art Library.   Ms. Barney asked if I would be willing to be photographed, and, cognizant of the honor, I was happy to agree. Also, I liked her immediately – she is a very vibrant, magnetic sort of person.

AR: Can you talk a little bit about what the process was like?
TH: A few months later, just before the December break in 2009, Ms. Barney arrived with her lighting technician and a huge box camera and took several photos, mostly in the long East reading room (AL-3) which was full of early afternoon light at the time.  She didn’t pose me, I just stood as I would as if standing for an ordinary snapshot.

AR: Do you know why the particular room in the Art Library was chosen as the setting?
TH: The lighting in the room was obviously important for her, however, as was the room itself.

AR: How did this photographic experience compare to others you have had in the past?
TH: Actually, I don’t pose for many photographs – I don’t even own a camera.  It’s an age thing, perhaps.  At a certain point in your life you want to stop collecting things – books, photographs, memories, etc., and instead you start thinking about clearing things out and making some space so you have room to consider what you do have that is important.  As time passes I seem to be becoming a kind of minimalist in this regard.  In any case, the only photo I have of me- that isn’t decades old or a mug shot from my computer camera for my Facebook site- was taken that same month by my flight instructor after my first solo.  Interesting, when I think of it, in that that photograph was about documenting an event – a kind of gesture of proof that I actually flew the airplane (also in the portrait) and made it back alive.  And it was customary – my flight instructor insisted on it.

AR: What was your reaction after seeing the photograph for the first time?
TH: I was amazed at the size.  That’s one of the limitations of looking at reproductions in a book or on a computer screen. However good the quality of the print, the scale is lost.

AR: What was it like encountering your own image hung on a gallery wall?
TH: The funny thing about my viewing of the photograph in the gallery was that I wasn’t as fascinated by myself in the image as I was the setting – the Art Library.

AR: How would you describe the work of Tina Barney?
TH: Barney’s work seems to me to be strong on texture, light, and color (another reason it is hard to fully appreciate her in reproduction), and the Art Library really, literally, shines in what I would ordinarily call the background, but in this case I would say the background steps forward to share in the foreground. So I was pleased to see my old friend the Art Library sharing the spotlight.  I was also interested in the title, “The Librarian.”  It seemed a brilliant move, in that it sets off readings of the image that have to do with the space as well as with texts, and with the people who work with them in a professional way.   What the image has to say about us I can’t reduce to words – it is wide open in a way that could be highly critical or could be flattering, maybe both at once.  But it’s something.

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