Joan Barker – who’ll be the focus of one of Wired Gallery’s Art Forays in the form of a “Pop Up” one-weekend show at a High Falls space June 8 and 9 – likes to observe, quietly, through the lens of a camera. One of her first jobs, years before she began teaching Photography as an adjunct professor at SUNY-New Paltz and other schools and workshops (including an upcoming stint in July at the Center for Photography at Woodstock), was as the archive manager for Ken Heyman, the photographer for anthropologist Margaret Mead. “He studied gesture and body language the way an anthropologist might, and shared these insights with me,” Barker recalled.
Later, she started building up bodies of work while traveling, capturing the joys and inner fears of kids who are part of the Fresh Air Fund’s summer getaways, and charting the world of gun-owners and gun shows some 20 years before the recent Second Amendment furor.
“The ambiguous, non-judgmental nature of the images in this series is a challenge to the intellect and the emotions, as the viewer attempts to examine the gun as concept, icon, artform and ‘death machine’ simultaneously,” Barker has since written of her Guns series – one of several to be on view in the Wired retrospective of her measured and subtly spectacular career. “The steady gaze emanating from the subjects in these photographs invites the viewer to move beyond an initial emotional response to a more thoughtful examination of who these citizens are who own guns.”
Barker’s one of those artists who finds ways, be it teaching or through grants and a variety of sales and assignments, to keep doing what she loves: her art. “My life’s work as artist, photographer and teacher reminds me of how the artmaking process allows us to better understand our place in the world around us,” she noted recently of her active documentary involvement in a local environmental cause, as well as such earlier series as New York City Streets and Parades (1980s), The Right of the People (1990-1996), Interpretive Landscapes (2001-2004), Photograms (2006-2007), Constructed Landscapes (2008-2011), Water Marks (2001-present) and Painted Planet (2010-present).
The works are local in origin, from Africa and Europe, documents from everywhere that Barker has been, plus some paintings. “The objective is to reveal a narrative of unexpected eloquence and grace in what we walk over and ignore,” she has said of one body of photos taken of our markings: a great way of summarizing what Barker has captured of the world she has inhabited, observed and expressed over the years.
Based in New Paltz since getting her MFA there, Barker is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Artists’ Fellowship, the Village Voice Photography Grant and two Center for Photography at Woodstock Fellowships, a veteran of one-person shows at O. K. Harris in New York City and Friends of Photography in San Francisco, plus a host of local galleries.
This weekend’s “Pop Up Show” is happening in the former home of Spruce Home Décor, at the intersection of Route 213 and Mohonk Road in High Falls, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, June 8 and 9. An artist’s reception for Barker will take place on Saturday, June 8 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Joan Barker “Pop Up Show” opening, Saturday, June 8, 5-7 p.m., Wired Gallery, 1415 Route 213, High Falls; (682) 564-5613, www.thewiredgallery.com.