this issue contains
>> Portrait of Hanne Darboven
>> Interview: Tim Eitel
>> Dieter Roth & Dorothy Iannone
>> Uta Barth

>> archive

Spanning Time:
A conversation with Uta Barth

Uta Barth, Untitled (Ground Nr. 9)
1992-93, Courtesy Uta Barth, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York,
ACME, Los Angeles

In terms of contemporary photography, Uta Barth occupies a unique artistic position. The photographer’s often blurry images of trees, streets, and empty spaces are less concerned about documenting her environment or saying something about herself. On the contrary: Barth eliminates every clear hint that could relate something about the theme or story of her photographs. Instead, she poses a far greater challenge to herself in truly attempting to see. Cheryl Kaplan spoke to the Los Angeles-based photographer about her work.

Uta Barth, Untitled (02.12), 2002,
Courtesy Uta Barth, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York,
ACME, Los Angeles

In the film Buffalo 66, the actor Vincent Gallo has just left prison. We see him hopping a bus, then looking out a window. Before we know it, he’s sitting behind the wheel of someone else’s car in a parking lot, not moving. Minutes go by like hours… even the girl sitting next to him wants to know what he’s doing. At last he snaps: "I’m spanning time, just spanning time."

Uta Barth, Untitled (00.1), 2000
Deutsche Bank Collection

"Staggered and discontinuous time" starts and stops in Uta Barth’s photographs. She splendidly isolates the familiar and then re-activates what’s been set apart through photographic sequences. Images add up and diminish, forming trial separations that are at times diagrammatic, at times scaled to catch a sideways glance.

Unlike film and most photography, Barth purposefully eliminates as many references to the world as possible. Most discussions of her work have been about her blurry images, but there’s a lot more to it. Barth’s work is not about photographic style. Her interest in "unmotivated or undirected looking" is plainly the opposite of the constructed or staged narratives made famous by Jeff Wall and Sam Taylor Wood. Oddly, narrative in photography has often reinforced the medium’s dependence on realism and the social. A dependence that might be linked to the public’s experience of photojournalism, the personal snapshot, and the need to indicate one’s place in the world.

Uta Barth, Untitled(aot 4)
from the series "....and of time", 2000,
Courtesy Uta Barth, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York,
ACME, Los Angeles

Barth asks: "Do you think we can only know things by comparing them to other things?" Her question strikes at one of photography’s long-standing conflicts: its ability to transcribe reality. Encouraging the viewer’s instinct to slowly and steadily look, Barth escalates the viewer’s relationship to the external world often by depriving the viewer of the things they look for first: objects and identifiable locations and the tell-tale signs of the author. Her interior shots have the feeling of an exterior world and her shots of landscapes are viscerally internal. What’s normally felt as public gradually deteriorates into the private, and what’s normally felt as private equally re-organizes itself to be felt more publicly.

Barth allows the viewer to idle. It is in this idling that intimacy unfolds along with a way of looking that lets you span time.

Uta Barth was born in Germany and grew up in California. Her works have been shown at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Tate Modern in London. One of her works from the Deutsche Bank Collection can also be seen at the bank’s London headquarters. She has been teaching at the University of California in Riverside for the past 18 years.

Uta Barth, Untitled (aot 1),from the series "...and of time", 2000,
Courtesy Uta Barth, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York,
ACME, Los Angeles

Cheryl Kaplan: Why is anonymity important in your photographs?

Uta Barth: Well, I don’t want the work to be about me, so I carefully edit out autobiographical information. In 1998 I made a decision to only make photographs in my house because I wanted to find another way to empty the subject out of my images, to separate meaning and subject. Seeking something to photograph made no sense anymore, but I still had to point the camera somewhere, so I point it at what’s familiar and everyday that it’s almost invisible. I don’t want to become the subject I’ve tried so hard to erase.

[1] [2] [3]