Thankful for Barbara Crane.
Her various bodies of work employ double exposures, combines, sequences and contact prints of whole rolls of film, among others. Images like Tar Findings up there exemplify her liking for elevating seemingly banal, found objects to epic conception and then re-imaging them en masse to convey, in her own words, both a “super reality and an abstracted vision of reality”.
Art historian and critic Abigail Solomon-Godeau wrote about the literary concept of ostranenie (the making strange of the familiar) as it applies to formalist photography. She observed that “the defamiliarization of the world effected in prose and poetry, the renewal and heightening of perception that was understood to be the primary goal of literature, had its natural analogue in the ability of the camera to represent the world in unconventional ways.” As revolutionary culture mandated revolutionary perception, it is not hard to see Crane’s photography, along with the work of other Institute photographers, as ideal agents of this new vision.
Her collectivist approach contributes to this feeling of defamiliarization, but her techniques serve another purpose as well. The use of photomontage inevitably stresses the hand of the photographer in the process of image production, while her precise compositions reject the popular perception of a photograph as being neutral or self-generated. It’s interesting to note how Crane subverted photography’s capacity for realism by creating these hyper-real abstractions of the physical world.
From the beginning, the invention of photography promoted visual experimentation, yet Crane’s cerbral precision, aesthetic wit and visual inventiveness all expand our sense perceptions and extend the language of photography well beyond realism.