Barbara Cole is an accomplished artist who has been pushing the boundaries in photography since the 1980s. Cole’s work has been exhibited worldwide and has won numerous prestigious awards in the photography field.
Just recently, Cole opened a solo exhibition named Between Forms at the Pellas Gallery in Boston. To talk about it, she joined us for an interview.
Firstly, how are you, and how is the world treating you?
I’m doing well, thank you. The first year of the pandemic was much more difficult than this one. It was the first time in my adult life when I wasn’t allowed to make photographs. Models, stylists, makeup artists and assistants were all understandably afraid to work together, which was a bit surreal. Now that the vaccine is available and I take the necessary precautions to protect my team, we can all move forward and I’m making new photographs as we speak.
You have a solo exhibition named Between Forms at the Pellas Gallery. What was the inspiration behind it?
Pellas Gallery and I have gathered photographs from throughout my career that explore my long fascination with water as a medium that naturally reshapes form. These are photographs across several series that explore transformation across time, movement, and image. I think putting them together for Between Forms creates a new dialogue in my body of work, which is always evolving and looking for both a sense of the ethereal and timelessness.
Creating an exhibition takes a lot of time, detail, and work. Do you have a specific process that you go through when preparing an exhibition?
Creating a new body of work, no matter what it’s for, always begins with excitement about an idea. I most often pre-visualize what I want to see and then I have to figure out how to make it happen. The most difficult part is putting my idea into words so I can properly define it. My process is “trial and error” until I am able to see the thing I’ve imagined. That can happen right away but most often it takes a much longer period of time. I am completely self-taught, so I often don’t understand how complex some of these ideas can be. The important thing is to keep working at it a little bit at a time until you “crack the code” so to speak.
Were there any new challenges you faced for this exhibition, and if so, what were they?
The biggest challenge is always to have people understand what they are looking at. My work is mostly done in-camera, and, for example, an underwater figure placed in a red set can be confusing. Does water have to be blue, I ask? I play around with my in-studio techniques to create something very special for my collectors. This is my first solo exhibition in New England and also Pellas Gallery’s first photography exhibition. These aren’t so much challenges as they are exciting opportunities.
You’re fascinated with water as a medium that naturally reshapes form. When did your passion for water come to you, and how has it shaped your pallet of work?
My passion for working in water happened because of my painterly aesthetic. I have never really enjoyed using the camera to strictly document things. Water allows me to give weightlessness to my figures, and it allows them to move in a particular way. It’s a natural fit for my imagination.
With 2022 underway, what other projects do you have planned for the year?
I am in the middle of a new underwater project called Beat that allows my figures to really, really let loose underwater. I think it’s a very cathartic time for that kind of attitude.
Also, I’m in the final stages of a studio project, called Shadow Dancing, that I have been working on for 11 years. It took me a very long time to learn the process for wet collodion photography: handmade film poured on aluminum, with a turn-of-the-century camera and lens. Once I got a handle of the process itself, I needed to take this wonderful new look and make it mine. I wanted to put my stamp on it. Instead of the usual sepia toned tintypes, I’m making pictures that look like Autochromes (the first colour film) and the delicacy of it all is blowing me away.
NFTs have become a big talking point in the world of art. As an artist, have you considered creating NFTs of your work?
I’m always up for experimenting with a new art form. I’m in the midst of thinking about what I can add to the NFT world. I don’t want to just throw something out quickly because it’s the new next thing. I’ve got some thoughts on the subject and now I’m working on the artwork.
Lastly, imagine you’re in an elevator with an aspiring photographer. You have 20 seconds. What one sentence advice would you give them?
I’d have only one question: Are you passionate about photography?
Thank you for joining us Barbara!
Between Forms exhibits at the Pellas Gallery until the 24th of February.