A native of New Jersey farmlands, Barnes has lived and worked in Brooklyn, Chicago and the American South. She is the co-founder of Great Northern Labs: analog darkroom, publishing platform & curatorial group. Her own darkroom is currently based out of a fuzzy house.
Without wishing to reduce a varied and complex form like photography to its tools, there is no doubt the specific quality of those tools does impart a unique character to the work depending on what they are. The spontaneity of a small camera stands out then compared to pictures made with a larger format, quite apart from other technical considerations. A view camera requires a deliberate approach that provokes a distinctive sort of prolonged attention to the subject of any picture made with it and that attentiveness is certainly an important part of Allison Barnes work, though it cannot be reduced to the simple matter of choosing to employ one camera over another. Nevertheless, using a large format view camera, as she does, implies a willingness to really see and to engage her subject with all the depth that the medium can manage in this form, quite different from – though by no means always better than – other approaches.
With her project Neither for Me Honey nor the Honey Bee she brings a scrupulous, though never clinical, attention to the people and places that surround her, tenderly accentuating the qualities of light and surface, all the intimate immediacy of things as they are, that might otherwise go unseen. The images are suffused with a soft, grey light that evokes a particular emotional landscape, one from which harsh discordances has been largely banished, though shadows stubbornly remain, as they are bound to do. After all, this is not arcadia; it is a place where people live and work, with all the struggles those imply. Such close seeing as this could hardly conceal the realities of growth and decay that are as fundamental to human experience as they are to the landscape itself. The title of the work, a fragment from the poetry of Sappho, hints at the loss of life’s sweetness (and the bee’s productive capacity), even though that loss might not be entirely apparent in the pictures themselves; this ambiguity captures an undertone of longing that undoubtedly foreshadows those losses yet to come. Drawing a parallel between the controlled growth of gardens and the rhythms of domesticity, harvests and haircutting, Barnes is also alerting us to the fact that these cycles of change are a necessary part of life.
With that knowledge, Barnes can trace the dynamic interplay of how the places from shape us – and how we in turn shape places according to our needs, practical as well as emotional. Those twin histories, the accumulated sum of hours and days, are what give a place its sense of specificity. Places are another kind of memory. But of course these are also carefully authored photographs of places and moments transformed by having been seen and this distinction is crucial. Seeing as an act, of connection – and indeed, of disconnection – is central to this work. As such, transparency is a repeated motif, highlighting what can be seen through and what can’t. These pictures quietly challenge our attention to the present, suggesting that for however much we are enriched by it, the lens of memory will obscure as much as it reveals; we are continually required to negotiate how and where we belong.