Barbara Crane: Human Forms. 1965/66 revised 7/15/2002

These images are taken from a body of work done for a Master's Degree in Photography at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The famous Bauhaus School from Weimar, Germany became what is now the Institute of Design in Chicago when it was moved to the United States in 1937. The photographic section of my graduate thesis consisted of ninety pictures, which is rather large for such a project. Because I had never explored the concepts included in the School's undergraduate curriculum, I immersed myself in exploring the assignments in depth at a graduate level in order to better understand the philosophy of the School.
For years I had only used a twin-lens reflex camera but I wanted to learn how to use a 4x5 view camera for the project. This also expanded my technical knowledge for my teaching position in photography. The view camera brought new insights to my work because of the precision and versatility inherent in the use of large format equipment.
My interests were in issues of form, light, line, volume, and visual discovery with a heavy emphasis on experimentation. Each situation required adjustments due to the model, lighting, my past photographic experiences, and my technical development at that specific time. I began with my children as models with an agreement between us that their faces would not be recognizable. Which allowed me to become more abstract in my vision.
At first, I continued using my old twin lens reflex camera in order to have more concentration by using just one camera with the addition of a supplementary close-up lens. Abstraction of my subject matter became more accessible by virtue of a close-up position. When I changed to a 4x5 camera I learned to make use of my many technical mistakes thereby opening exciting new ideas. I was not seeking the type of realism that many people recognize as essential in photographing the nude body. My cause was form, elements of composition, and a transcending of obvious realism. In using light to control and delineate the body rather than illuminate the form, I found new freedom of concept. Due to a fellow student's insistence that cropping a negative was not pure photography, I developed the discipline of composing the final image on the ground glass or in a view finder so that no changes needed to be made to the images while I was enlarging them in the darkroom.
In the black background pictures I was seeking to obtain a fine line of the body form in various simple positions as if painting with a small brush coated with light against a deep black background. Because of tonal gradations and shadows some of these pictures give an illusion of floating in dark space. Others, with fewer modulations and stronger chiaroscuro, are almost two-dimensional.
I titled the white background series as the Fine Line of Form. It was if my brush were a fine one coated with black pigment. The theory was that the fine black line of the shadow would rhythmically delineate the body in the white space as if it were a drawing. In these images delicacy of line was important and was to be found in the creases of the body or under it. From this group of pictures a new purpose evolved in the synthesis of reality and abstraction and they were a turning point in my vision and in my entire future body of work. With this awakening, along with a continuous search and steady growth in image making, came a desire to explore new ways of expression. My technical improvement and growing visualization abilities nurtured new ideas and the human body became a limitless subject matter. My driving force was a sense of discovery both within myself and on the ground glass. Each picture widened my image concepts and ideas while the accidental or technically imperfect pictures became cherished ones by opening new doors.

In the use of multiple exposure I was able to transform the human body from how I had been used to seeing it. The multiple exposures play with reality, sometimes leaving it raw, complicating it, enhancing it, making it absurd, grotesque, or lyrical. With the camera=s powers of both truth and deception, and with a view camera’s accessibility I was able to place manipulations inside the camera. Multiple exposures produced new symbols thereby opening more new paths to follow. The human form with its infinite varieties, shapes, tones, creases, elasticity, complexity and simplicity served only as the occasion or reason for making a photograph. I found that the body could suggest images unrelated to the flesh.
I had discovered that defining the figure by means of light and/or a light void as if one quick gesturing stroke of a fine or broad brush coated with dark or light became enough to communicate a message. Employing either a black or a white background determined whether the shadow or the highlight would dominate the form. I had come to understand that light and its counterpart, darkness, were the prime keys to my success in pictures of all kinds.

Barbara Crane
6/1966, revised 7/15/02

General statement

On the usage of Polaroid

Fleshy Fungi

On Natures mortes

Taste of Chicago

Visions of Enarc II

Coloma to Covert Sticks


Coloma to Covert scrolls

Chicago Loop series

Murals for Baxter / Travenol Labs

Wipe Outs

Download  Barbara's statements about her work in a pdf format.