Private Views by Barbara Crane

Aperture; $39.95 (112p), ISBN-10: 1597110965, ISBN-13: 978-1597110969

Judged individually, none of the shots of Chicago summer park-goers in Barbara Crane’s collection stand as particularly masterful. They might easily be mistaken as haphazard - at best a lucky stolen moment with a surprisingly interesting composition; at worst, a snapshot gone awry. But considered together, the resulting series is a paean to intimacy in its many forms: between lovers, between a parent and child, among friends, and of course, between the photographer and her subjects - even when they are caught unaware.  

 Private Views, Photographs by Barbara Crane (Aperture, Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago, April 2009)

In the early 1980’s, Crane attended crowded summer festivals and fairs in the parks of Chicago, and took physical contact as her main study. In very tightly cropped photos, she captures a mother lifting a child, couples wrapped in embrace, friends with their hands on each other’s shoulders. Crane, a single mother when she shot these images, has confessed to terrible spells of loneliness, and the people on those hot summer days who consistently drew her eye seem to make easy physical connections.

Neither lurid nor invasive, these images of flesh-on-flesh contact reveal the casual gestures between people who are intimate and comfortable with each other. The shots are also unusually framed (heads cut off, arms at jaunty angles, bodies pushed close to create awkward sculptural forms), and taken from a surprising perspective, partly a result of Crane’s short height, which allowed her to shoot close up from relatively low angles.

 Private Views, Photographs by Barbara Crane (Aperture, Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago, April 2009)

The aggregation of Crane’s informal, immediate images reveals the power of a well-executed body of work: the pictures attain a synergy from being grouped together and as part of a collection of work these images illustrate a consistent style and point of view. For readers who like social documentation as well as those on the lookout for inspiration to pursue personal photographic projects, Private Views definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Private Views is available on

Adam Koplan is head of the Performance Department at the Dreamyard Project which brings arts programs to NYC schools. He is also Artistic Director of The Flying Carpet Theatre Co.
Follow him on Twitter @FlyingCarpetNYC 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by or any affiliated companies.


Total comments: 3
By Alec (Jan 9, 2012)

Interesting point about the handheld 4x5" for candids. Henri Cartier-Bresson used a small camera (Leica) early on for that reason. The way I look at it, equipment choice is ultimately up to the photographer, but by the same token (meaning insofar as the artist is considered to know what she or he is doing) no allowance is made for equipment in the final result.

Using a Minox or an 8x10 or anything in between has tradeoffs and implications. If the ultimate result is meh, the fact that a really bespoke gear or method were used to make that, would not somehow salvage it - I do not see how it ever could. Likewise, none of the iconic shots are one iota less so to me because the photographer happened to be equipped smartly and anticipated the right time and place and / or exercised extreme technical prowess or say bravery.

By tigrebleu (Jan 8, 2012)

Agreed Wayne B. Using such equipement can be intimidating to the people being photographed. People's photography is hard work in terms of getting up close and personal to your subject, but the results can be outstanding if one photographer's got good people skills!

wayne b
By wayne b (Jan 6, 2012)

Enjoying the recent book reviews on dpreview, good to see this particularly gret book reviewed. One technical note that's interesting, the entire project was shot with handheld 4x5" camera with flash, using Polaroid film. This gives it a very distinctive look. If you've ever seen this gear you know getting these types of intimate shots is no easy task, people notice you from a mile away. That she made them feel like snapshots is incredible...

Total comments: 3