Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes is perhaps best known for his memorable photographs of the Unabomber Cabin made on assignment for the New York Times Magazine. With these photographs he transformed a crude and prosaic cabin into an iconic black and white study.

Barnes has two series of work currently on exhibit. I found the black and White prints the most compelling. At once, abstract and descriptive, these prints demonstrate the expressive potential of the photographic medium. From a distance, one might think that these works are textured drawings or prints. A closer look reveals the subject to be thick flocks of birds flying so close together that they seem to be strange shaped clouds of black dust.

These photographs depict scenes that alternate between wondrous and sinister. Though these are pictures of natural phenomena, some of Barnes’ images suggest a most unnatural apocalyptic visitation. The exquisite digital prints are shown without glass, allowing close study of their textures and shapes.

Like several photographers, such as Richard Ross and Sugimoto, Barnes has been making color photographs in Natural History Museums. Barnes has chosen to photograph the displays before completion. While depicting ironic juxtapositions of museum staff at work inside of realistic dioramas, these images feel more editorial than Barnes’ black and white images discussed above. The works I found the most engaging were of taxidermy subjects in shipping crates. The opened crates, plastic covering all sides but the one facing us, serve as both containers for and frames of the animals. Inside a majestic brown bear seems to be caught mid stride. The wood frame, the soft lighting and diffuse plastic wrapping all combine in a more subtle counterpoint to the naturalistic pose of the bear.

In his photographs of the crated animals, Barnes has brought a more subtle irony to what could have a simple depiction of the kind of simulated natural landscapes found in museums.

Like the photographs of the Unabomber Cafe, the strongest works in this show demonstrate a unique visual transcendence in photography.