People who are intently observing works of art at the museum might be a great subject for a photo series, but can be utterly redundant if documented repeatedly. This is the reason why Barbara Kyne’s “At the Museum” brings out a fresh and unique concept at seeing art enthusiasts in a different and equally creative way. Out of focus and blurry, viewers are shown with a series of photographs only depicting the contours of the bodies of art connoisseurs as surreal colors and shapes peppers the background. “The images are stripped of narrative and yet rich in color, shape, light, and energy. Blurring helps the viewer get there – the dynamic is revealed,” says Kyne in describing her series. “The work is both physical and metaphysical. By sharing these experiences in photographs, I hope to allow my viewers to relive the actual sensations of the museumgoers themselves. I hope we can live vicariously through each other and relish the mystery,” she adds. To learn more about the creative process that went on with the making of “At the Museum” series, Resource Magazine reached out to Barbara Kyne for a short interview.
How did the idea for your series “At the Museum” come about?
I accompanied my partner to a flower show and started shooting everything out of focus – the plants, the people – probably out of boredom. I had been shooting weddings, so coming up with new and interesting imagery was necessary for my clients and to keep myself interested. Very shallow depth of field was a popular style at the time, so I just pushed it further and made a few completely out of focus. There was something satisfying about those photos and my clients loved them. They evoked Bill Jacobson, Uta Barth and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s out of focus work. Soon after the flower show, I went to SF MOMA and it occurred to me on the spot that going completely out of focus just made sense. The idea of people looking at art is loaded with significance and magic. I asked questions from as early as I can remember about the nature of reality and the laws of the universe. Since I discovered that we are One with everything in the cosmos, I shoot outward to see inward and look inward to understand the Universe. There is no need for me or for the viewer to understand the specific subject matter – the art, the museum or the people in the photos. I emphasize the overlooked, underlying and even what is undetected by our five human senses. I shoot in search of what I haven’t seen before.
How important it is for a photographer to develop the skill of deep observation?
I’m not one to make rules about how photographers should approach their work. At the same time, I’m attracted to photography that is made in deep observation. It’s not just the eyes I’m talking about, but all the senses – a whole body experience. People tell me when I shoot that I often look like I’m dancing and when things are going well, I feel like an athlete “in the zone.” If I want to go past surface appearances, I can’t just look with my eyes. If you don’t develop deep observation, you might not see the distinguishing subtle elements that reveal character – much like an actor deeply observes behavior, facial expression, and body language.
Describe Your Photography Style?
I shoot mostly in color and make “straight” images in that they are created in camera with very little adjustment in Photoshop. The images tend to be abstract or bordering on abstract. I want the viewer’s eyes to travel around the photograph and find their own clues, so dynamic composition is often important. I shoot in any quality of light and being an opportunist, I work with what I find. Serendipity plays a big part in my style. I don’t choose subject matter based on any criteria and don’t start with a concept. I explore with my camera and when I find something that compels me, I work hard over a period of years for the concept to clarify. In that way, the series is an extension of me. I consider the images to be sensory artifacts that offer a conduit through which the viewer can experience unexpected perceptions.
Tell us the process of how you set up each shot in the series.
I rarely set up shots. I respond to what I see as I walk through the exhibits at museums. Sometimes I follow an interesting person through a few rooms. People rarely see that I’m photographing them, and since they’re unrecognizable in the photos, I don’t have any issue with that. Occasionally I will park myself in front of a piece of art and surreptitiously photograph the people who come up to look at it. I shoot digitally and the immediate feedback is useful in these varied environments that I can’t control. I can also work like crazy, not having to worry about stopping and reloading every 36 shots. The digital camera substitutes noise for grain with the high ISO, which looks good in the museum photos.
What are your camera and gear choices?
The Canon 5D MkIII gives me high-quality images in any lighting, and that is very important for the “At the Museum” series. I use the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens for an undistorted look. It’s light to carry around and I look less conspicuous when shooting, more like a tourist. I like to compose in camera and it’s simpler to just work with the one prime lens that’s on your camera. I prefer the SanDisk line of CF cards for speed and reliability.
Share with our readers and your followers your next projects.
I’m launching a book to go with my series, “By Fire,” shot during a nighttime bonfire at our country home in Mariposa, CA. It explores personal tragedy as a trial by fire that can metaphorically create expansion and renewed life. I’m working on a color series on the same five acres in Mariposa, using layered dimensions to explore our shared consciousness with all that’s living. I’ve also started working with out-of-focus human figures in sequences that will be presented in video format.
To see more of Barbara Kyne’s work “At the Museum” and other photography series, check out her Website. To be considered for Photographer of the Day, follow us on Instagram @resourcemag and e-mail submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “POTD Submission.”