Tina Barney's new photo book beautifully blurs the line between art and reality


At 98 pages, Tina Barney’s newly-published collection of photographs is comparably miniscule to the increasingly mammoth tomes featuring artist’s work—but it’s no less powerful for it. “Players,” with its diversity of images, far from lacking in range, is a surprising compendium of mostly-never-before-seen photographs of Barney’s subjects.

The New York-born photographer is best-known for casting her lens on both the intimacy and distance coexisting within family dynamics, which can be seen in her 1997 book “Theatre of Manners,” and later in “The Europeans” (2005). As a deliberate departure from this particular subject focus, Players expands to include images of actors on stage, fashion models, circus and carnival performers, as well as Barney’s own friends.


“I’ve become tired of the typical photo book that fits into a very obvious category. I hope this book might seem like you were given a deck of cards that had been thrown up into the air, and images had fallen into place randomly without any controlled rhyme or reason,” writes Barney, who bestowed graphic designer Chip Kidd with the task of organizing her work, albeit arbitrarily.


The planned disorder is effective. Images of fashionable sylphs are arranged next to close-ups of painted actors’ faces, alongside frozen moments of seemingly quotidian family rituals, such as dinnertime and birthday parties. And yet for all these different settings and individuals, there remains a visual cadence throughout the collection. With the exception of the occasional recognizable face like Michal Stipe (who also penned the foreward, written in verse) and Willem Dafoe, it becomes difficult to discern the real family members from the actors and models, and those actors from the more elaborately-decorated circus performers, proving Barney’s point that we are all “players,” on some stage or another.


Players is currently available on the Steidl