When I saw Winona Barton-Ballentine’s Home Studies prominently displayed in the ICP-Bard MFA group show, currently on view at ICP’s midtown educational center, I immediately felt drawn to their obvious sincerity and consideration. In a climate where combining random objects for no particular reason on a brightly colored background seems de rigueur, Barton-Ballentine’s domestic still-life photographs offer a warmly personal alternative. I recently asked her a couple of questions about the series.
The ICP-Bard MFA group show is on view through May 9th, 2013. Barton-Ballentine’s work can also be viewed in the group show Secession Secession, curated by Colby Bird at Fitzroy Gallery in NYC.
How did you begin working on Home Studies?
“I was living in Arles, France for two months while doing a residency/exchange, and stayed at home making still-lifes all day, listening to music, looking at maps, and experimenting with French recipes. That’s when food, fabric, and domestic items came into the pictures.
“I was thinking about objects that I choose to surround myself with in America versus what I was attracted to in France where I bought things to satisfy that anxiety of being away; to try to create a sense of home. This often included things from the market and/or things that reminded me of my Lebanese and French Canadian grandmothers—both amazing cooks.
“Back in Brooklyn, part of my system for making these images was to only use objects that already existed in my home as a way to challenge the desire to consume, and to ween myself away from the mindset that to buy something meant that I would make a better photo. Instead I wanted to make the things in the images.
“This felt important to me after years of working in fashion photography. I’m also considering the tradition of domestic craft, which both intrigues and terrifies me. I knit, cooked, chopped, sewed, strung, and constructed the images in a way that embraced the imperfection of the hand-made versus mass-produced. I often found this part to be slow and frustrating compared to the immediacy of photography. It was, however, satisfying in a physical, primary way.”
What do these photos mean to you?
“They represent this time in my life and in history, as a woman, a wife, an American, and an artist. With the abundance of new technologies, image-making styles, and production resources, I chose to re-visit the foundational tools of photography—framing, timing, and focus. This seemed a fitting framework for examining the history of domestic [still] life.
“I’m interested in the place where personal questions reflect the feelings of other people in my generation and cultural circumstance. There’s no better space for this than the home. Three questions arise: how does treatment of domestic space reflect circumstance? And beyond that: what conscious or unconscious decisions determine how I create my space, and why?”
Feature Shoot Contributing Editor Matthew Leifheit is an independent writer, curator, and photographer based in New York City.