2016 — 2017
by Sid Sachs
Director, Rosenwald–Wolf Gallery
Several years ago, Gideon Barnett was obsessed with malicious library vandalism; pages perverts considered vulgarly pornographic like Emmet Gowin’s loving portraits of Edith or Edward Weston’s Charis, crudely conserved by restorative Xeroxes. Instead of the “obscene” that which had been ripped out of books, librarians embedded placeholder images, lewder surrogates of replicated information. An irony of unintentional disrespect: no longer reflecting masterful grey tones of emulsion, the conservation produced another kind of obscenity.
Barnett’s newer images are more righteous: copies of microfilm from Schenk’s standard History of Photography bordered in parochial “blackboard” green. Some images stand as substitutes – their sources hidden or abstract, while others appear classical, as pictorial nudes for example. Pixelated and marred by dust, they provide factual evidence not only of originals but examples of genres of photographs. Barnett presents a history of representation and the pseudomorphs of misrepresentation – proxies, tropes, memes of mimicry. Vicious “fishhooks” turn out to be microscopic sub-globular microsclere spicules from an illustrated text on invertebrate zoology. An innocent nude (are there any innocent nudes?), her identity obscured by her face’s disposition, rests on a bucolic carpet like a Photo Secessionist maiden.
Excerpt from exhibition catalog
2012 — 2015
by Shane Lavalette
Director, Light Work
Gideon Barnett’s exhibition After Edith brings together a collection of images that he produced by documenting vandalized photography books found in public libraries. The project began in Miami, Florida, with the discovery of a copy of Emmet Gowin’s Photographs in which the iconic nude portraits of Gowin’s wife Edith had been defaced by prurient library visitors. Parts of the images had been cut with a razor blade and, in some instances, entirely torn out of the book. This deliberate removal of “provocative” imagery and the psychology of what may have sparked such an act fascinated Barnett, and prompted a closer look at the visual by-products. He was drawn to the way in which the cuts open through to another image, for example, or how the tearing of a page can create a compelling juxtaposition of photographs. The vandalized images are unquestionably interesting and beautiful when taken out of context and framed on the wall, yet all together Barnett’s photographs also point to disconcerting fearful, destructive, or even violent intentions behind them.
Some librarians would attempt to mend the most heavily vandalized titles by pasting inky black-and-white photocopies of the original pages back into the books. These replacements, reminiscent of smudged charcoal drawings, were equally intriguing to Barnett, so he physically removed the sheets of paper and collected them along the way as a counterpart to the photographs he was making. In his exhibition at Light Work, Barnett displays the photocopies as unique objects, pinned by small magnets into playful forms onto pieces of chalkboard. Their sculptural shapes highlight their physicality and presence. In a sense, they are confessions of his own vandalism, a participatory act that informs the way in which we might read the rest of his work. Barnett notes the ways in which the quiet space, the expectations and pressures within a library setting, seems to prompt certain defiant behavior, acts of theft and perversion. He notes a history of such acts in libraries and the fact that it is not localized, but widespread. Within a nearby library here in Syracuse, for example, there is in fact a copy a Sally Mann monograph that visitors have thoroughly altered.
excerpt from Contact Sheet 184
2013 — 2017