Photograph by Philippe De Jonckheere, Berlin, 1988, silver gelatin print, 8X10 inches.


Barbara Crane, the teacher.

By Philippe De Jonckheere


As I composed the pages of the future Barbara Crane's future website, a lot of memories of those times collected in the three years that I have spent in Chicago are flooding back to me. I remember the first time I met Barbara Crane. My friend Halley Smith, the unspeakable american student in the photo department of my parisian art school, had told me that I had to do everything possible to get into one of Barbara Crane's classes. So once in Chicago, before I even started to look for a steady place to stay, the first thing first was to go to Barbara Crane and asked her if she could accept me in one of her classes, well she refused, all of her classes were full and she could not take anyone. I insisted, she became quite cross with me, my very poor english of the time did nothing to help — at the time, when people would tell me see you later, I would sit on the nearest bench waiting for them to come back in a few minutes maximum, I did wait — fellow students would have a grand time at my expense teaching me that a lens was an easel, a beeker a ruler and a ruler was a lens. Barbara Crane's look became darker and darker, there was no use in telling her that I had comed all the way from France to take a class with her, she just would not have it. The next day I pushed my luck even further and asked her if she could look at my portfolio. She gave me a fierce look (and believe me, Barbara Crane is not someone you want to be on the wrong side of). She must have thought I was some salesman or something, that until she hadn't quickly looked at the goods, I would come back and push my way through to her through the windows if the door had been shut and through the chimney when the windows had been shut as well. So I laid my portfiolio ( images of Berlin if I remember well ) on the table, she sat across the table in this very telling fashion that it is obvious that you are going to be dismissed in the very next minute. Barbara Crane looked at the first image and didn't say a word, I couldn't know wether I was expected to display the next images or, on the contrary, pace down somewhat. The second image didn't bring forth any comment either and on the third image, she dashed from the edge of her seat and pointed at a glare that was in fact the result of an uncontrolled reflection from the strobe, stating that, yes, this was what made the image "work". I don't think I understood what she meant but I wasn't about to argue. I kept on flipping the images, and then the remarks came in a steadier flow, that became of stunning abundance. I must say that her remarkes were systematically aimed at details of the images which I had always considered quite secondary, for Barbara Crane it seems that those details were what the images were about, the rest of the image ( what I thought was their subject matter ), well that might not have been there as far as Barbara Crane was concerned. Again I didn't feel brave and able enough in the english language to argue, I was in fact way too concerned not to stop her in her tracks and not to be a nuisance of any sort. I thought that she had no time for me, and there she was, now, seated focused like a spring, in this fashion that I would be able later to tell that this was her own, all eyes wide opened, alert mind, sharp as a razor blade, ready to be surprised by anything and for that matter I will later learn that there is no hierarchy in her mind, anything can catch her attention and the chances of a stone, a fride magnet, a tree bark, a shadow on a building facade, all theses things stand equal chances to catch Barbara's attention.
An hour went by ( it's true, Barbara Crane has NO sense of time, when her attention is drawn, time stops and it becomes impossible to explain to her that pressing deadlines, such as a train or a plane to catch are looming). She was now talking and commenting, I was doing my best to catch some of it — I felt like I was trying to pour lake Michigan using a canstrainer, despite my inadequate tool, I managed to catch some of it. We were looking at the 20th image of the lot ( there was another ten to go ), and she suddenly realises, lightning strikes, that she has to go. I gathered all my might, and asked her if really it would not be at all possible that she would accept me in one of her classes, as she was grabbing her bag, she said no... she'd-see-me-every-wenesday-at-2PM-is-that-all-right-with-me?
I don't think I have ever learned as many things during those one to one weekly meetings, cooking that we were, the two of us, in that crammed and jammed little office in which it was unthinkable to unfold an image larger than 8X10 inches Those meetings would invariably end up with all the images that I had brought, spread on the floor of the small office. Barbara would endlessly search through mountains of contact sheets ( I think that what Barbara enjoyed the most in being my teacher was that I was shooting a lot of images so she had a lot to play with) in order to find THE picture that she would consider missing in a collage of four.

I would love to come back to those times, when Barbara told me one day, as I was coming out of the hospital after a nasty african hepatatis that being ill had done me a lot of good (sic) as it had given me more freedom in my image composition.

You can only imagine now the pleasure I take to be the one playing with Barbara's images, linking them to each other in what will be this website.

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