We are pleased to share the work and words of photographer Barbara Cole.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Canadian and I’ve lived in Toronto all of my life. I’ve been married to a great guy for years and years and I have two grown daughters, who are very talented artistically but work in other fields.
How did you get started in photography?
I got started in photography completely by accident. I had dropped out of high school in the last year because I was ill. I was about seventeen years old and I passed the rest of the year by doing a bit of modeling and the next year as a secretary. That was enough to convince me to go back to school again. One of the clients I had modeled for was a start-up newspaper. The fashion editor was quite taken with me and convinced that I could be the new fashion editor at the age of 19. I found the reporting part difficult, but I loved the weekly fashion shoots. The other photographers told me I had a good eye and they encouraged me to do the shoots myself. My entire life seemed to take on a purpose after that.
Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?
I admire a lot of other artists, each for a different reason. Stieglitz for his utter devotion to photographers and his passion for photography. Deborah Turbeville and Sarah Moon because their photography was/is ephemeral. I loved Steichen for his incredible eye and the breadth of his talent. I absolutely loved Lucien Freud and I have for ages. His paintings are ugly/beautiful and incredibly strong. David Hockney makes it onto the list because his work is so fanciful and enchanting. Picasso was such a huge talent and his brushwork was fearless. I love the colour harmonies of John Singer Sargent. Heinrich Kühn’s autochrome work was flawless and his patience was legendary. Lastly are Gerhard Richter’s photo paintings.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
￼Sure – Gerhard Richter’s Helga Matura, 1966. There are so many levels to this work.
Please tell us about your newest series?
Wet Collodion is probably the most difficult process I’ve ever learned. That speaks volumes since for the past fifteen years I’ve been shooting people underwater, with electricity and holding my breath. With Wet Collodion, until you learn to perfect all of the elements you really can’t achieve your vision. It took me four years to understand the lighting, the field camera, the cleaning of the plates, the mixing of the chemicals before I was able to find my vision. I was first intrigued by Wet Collodion because I had a binder full of old Polaroid 35mm Black & White transparencies that could now be printed by this process since Polaroid was out of business. Darkroom work was all fine and well, but I really wanted to shoot something original and I wanted to stretch the boundaries of this process. Everywhere I looked everyone was doing the same damn thing. Sepia portraits or historical re-enactments.
As I mentioned previously, for a long time I’ve been exploring the use of water as a medium, as a canvas, as a lens, as a mirror, and particularly the effect it has on the way we see the human figure. In July of 2013, I was struck by a puddle of water on the pavement. The image in the puddle was of glass buildings overhead against a clear blue sky. I felt like the water was a window through the sidewalk into another world. The boundaries of the image in this other world were imperfect, they were blurred and they were not static because of the movement of the water. Nevertheless the water captured the image just as photography captures an image by artificial means.
It seemed to me that this primitive form of capturing the image could well be explored with Wet Collodion. The emulsion is literally poured over a piece of glass in much the same way as water in a puddle might cover a piece of pavement and play with the shape of the figure within. The magic of photography allows the image to be captured in a permanent way whereas in the puddle when the water evaporates the image is gone. These images in “Meditations” are intended to convey the experience of that way of seeing. The indistinctness of the human figure, the irregularity of the frame in which it appears, and the ephemeral atmosphere all echo, for me, the fleeting impression of life reflected in water.
If no one saw your work, would you still create it?
Of course. What a question!
Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day for you.
I used to jump into ideas much quicker but I must say now that I do a lot of thinking before I begin. I honestly can’t say which is best. I tend to draw out my story boards, either with a pencil or on the computer which provides a clear reference for anyone I need to involve. I think a perfect day is working together on an image with my support staff around me and seeing the idea actualize for the first time.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
I think the greatest challenge is coming up with strong ideas and staying motivated to see them through. Until an idea gels, I’m pretty miserable to be around.
If you could spend the day with another photographer living or passed who would it be?
It would have to be Edward Steichen.
How do you overcome a creative block?
Wow – what a great question! When I start sleeping during the day, eating a lot of delicious cookies and reading way too many books, I realize that I might be blocked! So I know that it’s time to hear the little voice in my head that’s been telling me I’m a bad artist and I will never have another good idea again. I understand it for what that voice actually is – FEAR. I go to the studio and quietly build myself up again. It seems to work for me.
Thank you Barbara for sharing your work with us.
To learn more about the work of Barbara Cole please visit her site, Barbara Cole.
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