Barbara Ess, "no title", from the series "Cipher", 2004, C-Print, 45x40", ed# 2/4.

Barbara Ess, “no title”, from the series “Cipher”, 2004, C-Print, 45×40″, ed# 2/4.

Barbara Ess

selected by Robert Flynt

This pinhole re-photograph of an ancient ziggurat was taken from a New York Times article about historic sites that might be destroyed during the Iraqi invasion. The newspaper reproduction itself got torn. It recalled images of the Tower of Babel and the Twin Towers and the loss and confusion associated with them. The low resolution of the pinhole photograph perhaps further emphasizes a sense of the fragility of the physical world.

Robert Flynt writes: As has been variously noted, all photographs in some way speak to death: the proverbial decisive moment is irretrievably lost – so is the indecisive one, the ambiguous, the ambivalent (if it ever even existed as a singular moment). For me, Barbara Ess’ work is thoroughly and movingly in the latter camp(s). She at once invokes and deflates sentimental notions of memory – its deceiving seductions of nostalgia. Her images celebrate and critique the ominous power of the half-remembered dream image, the snapshot found in the back of a drawer. Foresight? Evidence? Aftermath? Neither windows nor mirrors: only a camera sees this way – but these images feel like scrapings from the encrusted walls of the retina.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Barbara Ess studied English and Philosophy at the University of Michigan, before attending Film school in London, where she began making experimental films. Upon her return to NY she became involved with music, performance, and making artists’ books and photographs. Over the last twenty years there have been numerous exhibitions of her work throughout the United States and Europe, as well as Japan and Australia including solo shows at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; Curt Marcus Gallery, NYC; CEPA Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC; and Faggionato Fine Arts, London, England. Her work has been the subject of cover stories in Artforum and Art in America magazines, and her book, I Am Not This Body, published by Aperture in 2001, was selected as one of the ten top photography books of the year by the Village Voice. Her work is in collections at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Pompidou Center/ Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris. Ess currently teaches photography at Bard College.