Tim Barber is one of the more interesting and important photographers of his generation, but for different reasons than usual. Of course it matters that his pictures are very good. However, as we all collectively navigate the glut of photographic information that overwhelms our visual landscape, the tendency for artists and viewers alike is to look for more tightly focused bodies of work, narrative frames that distinguish themselves from the rest. That, mostly for the better, is just not what Barber does.
His work is about an overall passion for the medium rather than a specific obsession with any one thing in particular. His is an omnivorous eye, gluttonous for anything that can be conveyed via the lens, exceptionally nomadic, persistently fresh and remarkably fond of life and how it looks in pictures. It is this itinerant and roving vision of Barber that comes across as a bit directionless in his current show, Relations, at Capricious 88 through July 13. Considering how a disparate body of images “relate” to one another may bespeak some absence of conceptual framework and linearity, but it does so with an all-encompassing embrace that is endearing and seductive on its own terms.
Barber, whose pedigree as the consummate image fiend includes a tenure as photo editor for the iconoclastic Vice Magazine, running the prolific photo websites tinyvices and its current incarnation time & space, numerous curatorial and publishing projects and an ongoing collaboration with contemporary photographers including Ryan McGinley, has himself produced images so drenched in the raucous sensibilities of youth as to contribute greatly to the zeitgeist he has helped define. Relations, in contrast, offers a far more sedate visual landscape than the party that once raged in his pictures, what we might presume to be more mature work, in content and style but in its mastery of craft as well.
Barber’s new work, if not quite “the kids are alright” rallying cry that once made it so irrepressibly exhilarating, is still wonderfully optimistic, and even poetic, conjuring its relations in terms more frail than pedantic. Built of gesture and pose, often cropped, darkened in silhouette, dappled in refracted light or with anatomies disembodied, there is an enigmatic quality of intimacy to these photos – most literally in the child breastfeeding or the young couple (artist Aurel Schmidt and Donald Cumming, lead singer and guitarist for The Virgins) intertwined. What Barber delivers now is beautifully poised in its uncertainty, allowing a kind of magic to suffuse the quotidian through the abiding quality of wonder that exists within the artist himself.