Lisa Barnard

Today’s visiting lecturer was Lisa Barnard, a photographic artist who deals with subjects such as politics and war.

Unfortunately, I missed the introductions and the preamble, turning up as she was discussing some photographs taken with a large format, first exploring the psychological aesthetics of the relationship between mother and daughter (
Ps<>D) then those of children engrossed in theatre (the Unicorn Theatre). Whilst these images are shot on a 5×4 camera, they’re not overloaded with the minute of detail that some make use of the format to produce, rather they’re so much more suggestive rather than purely representative, either through the use of tilt/shift or due to the low light conditions that they were shot under. Nice, but portraits aren’t really my “thing”…

Having said that, I did like the presentation from 
Polska by the Sea, with the front/back portrait pairing in the train station in Eastbourne. Maybe not the way I would have done it, I’d have gone down the obvious route and done 180° rotations. Actually, no, I wouldn’t have done it at all, but I may have done something like postcards that formed a kind of juxtaposition with the portraits, being iconography of the idea of Polish-ness and in some ways of life in Britain (Union Flag toilet seats and Lady Di). These postcards featured poems written by a collaborator (I didn’t catch a name) who wrote whilst the photographs were being taken, an interesting MO although maybe not one I’d be comfortable adopting (the idea of collaboration scares me).

Blue Star Moms was another project intertwining portraiture with an element of typology (and indeed, the portraits are also typology of a sort). Again, it was the non-portraiture that I found more interesting – the duality of the Care Packages only really becoming apparent when you are “in the know”. Many of the items seem mundane (and indeed are), however they have added value in a war zone, with cotton buds being used for cleaning equipment rather than ears (which they shouldn’t be used for anyway!!), or sanitary towels used to absorb sweat when added to a helmet lining. These items also serve their normal use as well; a little bit of normality in an un-normal situation. In many ways, this reminded me of Olivia Hollamby (or Robinson – she’s now married and I don’t know which is correct) who worked with her husband in making images from the Gulf (he is a British soldier), but she concentrated on some of the domestic elements, although not in a typographic manner.

Another project with a decidedly blue theme was 
32 Smiths Square, the one time home of the Conservative Party. During the time the photographs were taken, the offices were closed and had been (virtually) emptied, with anything of any value having been auctioned off. All that remained was things with no perceived financial worth, but with interest, notably the series of photographs of Margaret Thatcher that had been affected by the passage of time. Blown up and exhibited in a poll booth type of installation, there was an added depth to the images, all different but so similar – as if the iron lady had an iron façade, unchanging.

The remainder of the work was again centred about the US Army, although no more directly than with the 
Blue Star Moms. Drones form one part of the projects, as is the use of virtual reality. In some ways, it’s quite closely tied into some of my own current work, with the blend of the military, gaming and such. Lisa spoke of Baudrilliard, and his Gulf War trilogy is something I’ve been reading recently, together with other pieces on war as entertainment and the military sublime (Stallabrass). I’ve written a few notes about this, but I’ve also ordered Lisa’s book Hyenas of the Battlefield, so before adding much more I think I will wait for the book to arrive and look in further detail at the work.

All in all, an enjoyable, interesting and informative lecture about a highly relevant subject- Lisa was an interesting talker and put up with me chipping in with typed comments and questions as the session progressed. Yes, thoroughly enjoyed.
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