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.
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.”
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.