Pioneering Photographer Barbara Crane [1928-2019]

by Christopher Blay August 9, 2019

Photographer Barbara Crane, who died August 7, 2019, in an undated photograph via Eleftheria Lialios

Barbara Crane, known for her candid photographs of strangers on the streets of Chicago and her extensive experimentation with the medium, has died at age 91. Her photographs took many forms, from conceptual, drawing-like abstractions of human forms early in her career, to candid observations of passersby and people sometimes oblivious to her presence on the streets of Chicago. In her series People of the North Portal Doorway, Crane observes random strangers as they emerge from a building in Chicago, creating uncanny and sometimes humorous juxtapositions.

Crane worked for the Chicago Landmark Commission for seven years, and that position gave her an intimate sense of the city as she walked its streets documenting its architecture. In 2009 the Amon Carter Museum of American Art interviewed Crane for her exhibition Barbara Crane:Challenging Vision. In that conversation she talks about some of her architectural photographs and the light effects she captured that led to images like the ones in her Loop series. “I know where the sunlight is, at what time of day.” Her attention on the effects of light on her subjects led to other series where the photographer focused on faces framed by neon signs.

In Grids, a series of Polaroid photographs that the artist arranged in grids, Crane examines colors, faces, objects, and other materials in horizontally and vertically arranged compositions that highlight the scientific roots of photography.

The Red and the Black-1984-117-polaroid-polacolor-type-669-photographs-56.75 x56.75-inches-Barbara-Crane

Barbara Crane, The Red and the Black 1984. 117 Polaroid Polacolor type 669 photographs, 56.75″ x 56.75″

Glasstire reached out to a friend of Crane’s, professor emeritus of photography Richard Doherty, of Dallas. He wrote this: “What to say about Barbara. She was a giant in the Chicago photography scene since the ’60s and along with Ken Josephson and Joyce Neimanas, anchored one of the preeminent photography programs at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.” Doherty, an alumnus of SAIC goes on to write: “She was as committed to teaching as she was to her personal work and did both beautifully. I’ll remember her as a compassionate, spunky, funny and inventive human.”


Barbara Crane, center, with photographers Richard Doherty, right, and Kenda North.

The following is an excerpt of the accompanying text from The Polaroid Years at Catherine Edelman Gallery and Barbara Crane At Ninety: A Look At Selected Series at Stephen Daiter Gallery in Chicago:

Crane’s photographic work has been featured in over ninety solo exhibitions since 1965 and seven retrospective exhibitions of her work have been mounted to date. “Barbara Crane: Challenging Vision,” an extensive career retrospective, was accompanied by a major monograph of the same title. The exhibition opened at the Chicago Cultural Center in October 2009 and has traveled to the Amon Carter Museum in Texas and the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts.


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Debora Hunter August 13, 2019 - 22:55

Barbara was an amazing person. I spent time with her when I was visiting faculty at SAIC 1985-86. What a role model as an artists, educator and person! So glad that so many of us knew and loved her. Though she enjoyed appreciation for her work, she deserved more. Hope that art history will continue to be revised to give her greater credit.

Roy Flukinger August 15, 2019 - 15:48

Deborah Hunter is very correct: “amazing” is a most appropriate word for dear Barbara Crane. She deserves to be remembered as one of her generation’s most remarkable artists as well as a critical mentor and inspiration to present and future generations of photographers. We may have lost a great and good friend but her exhilarating spirit and challenging art will live on.


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