Ricardo Barros is a photographer, writer, curator, and filmmaker. His works are in the permanent collections of eleven museums, including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the Museum of Art of São Paulo.
In 2004 Barros published Facing Sculpture: A Portfolio of Portraits, Sculpture and Related Ideas, a book of portraiture that also addresses contemporary sculpture. Magdalena Abakanowicz, one of the sculptors portrayed, wrote: “What a superb, unusual book! What a significant work of art … Thank you for this work beyond categories.” Barry Schwabsky wrote in the New York Times: “Each of these portraits has clearly been thought through differently — composed differently, lighted differently — reflecting the collaborative nature of his work with the sculptors Mr. Barros has chosen to portray … He seems to know that a certain degree of critical tension will give liveliness and complexity to his images, but he lets the tension remain a nuance.” Read full New York Times exhibition review here.
The 2012-2018 project, Riverside Silos, focuses on an industrial landscape. Referring to a set of enormous storage silos he photographed, Barros writes: “… the sheer geometry of these forms begs for a study of light, shadow and space.”
The 2013-2020 Figuring Space portfolio consists of photographs, an essay, and a companion video. Using the figure, Barros explores space as a metaphor: “Until we encounter a boundary, space is completely invisible to us. We perceive space only when it ends,” he writes. Doug Wallack wrote about this project: “The images play with the tension between abstraction and context that space embodies — that tug between a sort of ideal Platonic form of space and space as we, embodied, experience it.” Read full review here.
Barros is currently working with 360-degree panoramas, exploring the idea that space can be folded and time reshaped to tell stories with a nonlinear narrative.
Ricardo Barros was awarded a Fellowship in Photography by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in 1984 and 2021.
Barros’ work is in the permanent collection of eleven museums, including:
- Smithsonian Museum of American Art
- Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Brazil
- Museu da Imagem e do Som (MIS), Brazil
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Fogg Art Museum
- DeCordova Museum
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2022 Princeton University
2017 CameraWork Gallery, Scranton, PA
2017 Taft Communications, Lawrenceville, NJ
2013 Gallery 219, Trenton, NJ
2008 Kean University, NJ
2007 The DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA
2005 National Liberty Museum, Philadelphia, PA
2005 Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester, VT
2005 Johnson & Johnson Corporate Headquarters, New Brunswick, NJ.
2004 Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
2004 The Ellarslie Museum, Trenton, NJ
2004 Marsha Child Contemporary Gallery, Princeton, NJ
2000 Keyes Gallery, Springfield, MO
1998 Grounds For Sculpture Museum, Hamilton, NJ
1990 Museu da Imagem e do Som (MIS) Brazil
1984 Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Brazil
“Stone Sculpture in New Jersey,” works by Ayami Aoyama, Harry Gordon,William Happel, Constantine Cotty Nazarie, and Christoper Spath at Kean University
“New Jersey Arts Annual,” with Margaret O’Reilly, at New Jersey State Museum
“Extraordinary Mash-Ups,” photographs by Ilya Genin, at Arts Council of Princeton
“Perseus Slays Medusa: Greek Myth Retold,” photographs by Barbara Warren, at Arts Council of Princeton
Turning the Lens on Visionaries From Another Medium
By Barry Schwabsky
THE NEW YORK TIMES, Sunday, January 3, 1999
A photographer who sets out to portray other artists as such – in their own studios, with their work, perhaps even at work – takes on the role of a critic. The task is somehow to register both how the artists understand their relation to the idea of art and how the photographer understands that relation to it. Since those two understandings may not naturally coincide, the project may become fraught with competitiveness, if not outright conflict – just as in relations between artists and critics.
But Ricardo Barros of Princeton turns out to be a discreet and tolerant critic of the 31 artists he has portrayed in “Sculptors: A Portfolio of Photographs,” at Grounds For Sculpture here. Mr. Barros is not the kind of photographer who imposes a highly marked style on any subject he takes. Each of these portraits has clearly been thought through differently – composed differently, lighted differently – reflecting the collaborative nature of his work with the sculptors Mr. Barros has chosen to portray.
He may put his pictures together in a self-effacing way, but that is not say he simply echoes his subjects’ self-images. He seems to know that a certain degree of critical tension will give liveliness and complexity to his images, but he lets that tension remain a nuance. At times his matter-offactness seems a wry counterpoint to the grandiosity of the sculptors who are drawn to theatrical, even imperious gestures.
Elizabeth Strong-Cuevas pulls back a plastic sheet from around a large, abstract head with a theatrical sweep. Barry Snyder turns away from the camera to show off the rip in the back of his Tshirt, yet he can’t help turning his head back, as if to check out of the corner of his eye, whether the viewer is fittingly impressed with his sartorial casualness. Elsewhere, it is less a gesture than an extravagant pose, like the pensive, far-off gaze of the black-hatted Francois Guillemin.
More surprising, though, are the images in which gesture that should have been corny turns out to be unexpectedly touching – for example, the one of Marilyn Simon looking as if she is about to lay a kiss of the portrait in her hands. Is it the sculpture itself, or its subject, of which she is so enamored? The smile lines around her eye suggest that she has a more playful attitude than one might have guessed.
Other lovely moments: The way Yon Jin Han studies the stone he is about to work on like a scholar preparing to annotate a canonical text; Michele Oka Doner leaning far back toward the edge of the frame so as to make as much room in the image as she can for the sculptures spread across the wooden floor; Vladimir Kanevsky cradling his starkly totemic sculpture as he strides away from the camera across a snowy field toward the distant prospect of lower Manhattan, as if making his way toward a showdown between those two, seemingly incompatible realities.
The sculptors in most of these pictures are not household names. Several among them are quite famous – Magdalena Abakanowicz, Marisol, George Segal, to name a few – but Mr. Barros seems to have had more success in drawing out nuances from lesser-known figures who are perhaps less entrenched in their own self-representation. Like a good critic who draws you deeper into the art – who, by making you feel the limits of mere criticism, renews your appetite for the art itself – Mr. Barros succeeds in raising curiosity about these sculptors and their work.
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Kelly: 11 questions with photographer Ricardo Barros
Jul 20, 2022
“My Mother, My Sister, My Wife” photograph by Ricardo Barros.
Ricardo Barros is a world-class photographer and videographer. His work is in the permanent collections of a dozen museums. He has done artwork commissioned by Fortune 500 companies. He is a master and a student, always learning. His 2004 book, Facing Sculpture, originated from his work done at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton and shows 60 portraits of some of the best contemporary sculptors in their natural environments.
Barros is also fun, supportive, personable and playful with his art. He is all business, but in a very human way.
Ricardo Barros pic
“My Mother, My Sister, My Wife” photograph by Ricardo Barros.
How did you begin with photography?
Times are different now, but in the 60’s, photography was alchemy. The magic was tangible. Darkrooms glowed yellow, there was a particular smell to the fixer, your hands got wet in the chemistry, we waited with anticipation for images to appear in the developer… all that was mesmerizing to me as a boy. Then, while in high school, I saw an exhibition of Paul Strand’s work. Seeing those photographs was like being struck by lightening. I was stunned. My knees began to shake as I stood in front of the framed work. The prints had an endless range of greys and luscious blacks. I had never seen such photographs. That was my first experience with the power of art. Chasing that feeling became a lifelong passion.
Who are your artistic influences?
The first influence was photographer Edward Weston. Like he did, I used 4×5 and 8×10 view cameras to photograph B&W landscapes and nudes. For a good 20 years, I was his acolyte. Sometime in the 90’s, I saw Martin Schoeller’s portraits in The New Yorker. In particular, there was a portrait of skateboarding guru Tony Hawk skating off of a kitchen countertop while his wife fed their toddler in the background. The photograph was clearly staged, but it was also real, and captured on film in one shot.
That opened my eyes to a different path to creativity, intervention, and the idea that photographs could be playful. And perhaps my most significant influence wasn’t a photographer at all. It was singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco. Her lyrics are poetry. They have personal meaning. I love that each of her songs sounds different. Her modeling of diversity in one’s oeuvre has motivated my work ever since.
Among different subjects, which comes easiest and which are more challenging?
In portraiture, the sitter may expect me to visually depict his or her identity without the sitter knowing it him or herself. With still lifes, we are tempted to choose subjects whose beauty was revealed to us in other artworks. It is easy to be derivative, to not push the conversation forward. And photographs of “the figure” are loaded with all sorts of landmines.
These range from social appropriateness to what we, in our work, are saying about physical beauty. Nudes, in particular, risk uninvited, prurient interest. But I think the question becomes even more interesting if we take a step back. Challenges such as I describe are portals to discovery. Art isn’t about being safe. It’s about stepping into the unknown, going all-in on a search without necessarily knowing what one is searching for. It is about growing comfortable with fear, about failing, and about a momentary sense of accomplishment when one reaches the proverbial summit. Challenge is wind in the artist’s sail.
How many photos do you take to get the perfect shot, the one you use?
I almost always take lots of bad pictures when I need one, good image. Then I throw the bad ones out. What may be surprising is that my best shot is incredibly similar to so many bad ones. I move the camera slightly to the left, photograph a moment later. The difference between them is subtle. But I think subtlety is, in fact, the difference between good and great artwork. It is easy to convey drama. Nuance is far more elusive.
What fight/struggle do you have regarding your art?
My biggest struggle is that photography has been so devalued. There was a time when each and every picture had a cost. A roll of film had, at most, 36 frames. Days passed between when we pressed the shutter and when we saw what we actually got. People spent time thinking about, looking at, and discussing the ideas photographs conjure. Now there is virtually no cost to taking a picture. We see it instantly, and we dismiss it within seconds. We have a different kind of “Me Too” movement in photography. Thoughtless observation is passed off as insight. Photography has become a performative, social ritual.
Don’t get me wrong: powerful photographs are still being made, even with cell phones, but their existence is obscured by an onslaught of throwaway snapshots. So the photographers’ challenge is to find footing in this new environment. How do we remain relevant? How do we make people spend time with our work? Why should they pay attention to what we are saying?
How do you know what to work on next, do you have a list of projects?
I work with a ‘project’ framework. My projects typically span 5 to 7 years, then I move on. Past projects have included graffiti writing culture, industrial landscapes, and feminist truths expressed through a male gaze. I discover projects by following my curiosity, by uncovering something of interest that I know very little about. I stay with a project until the learning slows, until it becomes difficult to avoid repeating myself. Right now I am working with 360-degree panoramas that suggest an entanglement between space and time. The photographs visually bend space, and sequential events are presented as concurrent. It is still a young project. I have no clue what my next project might be.
Do you see projects in color or black and white?
Both. I see forms crying for a border so they can become a composition. I see stories that need to be told, questions that need answering. The craft I use depends upon the embedded idea.
Who were some of your favorite subjects?
There are so many. Near the top of the list, I suppose, are intimate portraits of family and friends. People with whom I’m comfortable, and they with me, in our innermost sanctums. But more generally, with respect to my favorite photographs, they tend to be ones in which the image transcends the medium. Yes, the photograph may have been made with an 8×10 view camera, but what people see is the image. The image isn’t about photography, it is about life.
Where can we see your work?
The most accessible location is my website. Right now I have two 360’s up in the Fine Arts Annual at the New Jersey State museum. I recently became a Contributing Writer to ICON magazine, where every issue presents one of my photographs and a short essay.
What do you do to relax?
Up until recently I was a certified, mounted umpire with the United States Polo Association. Not that I was the best in their ranks, but I was good enough to trade umpiring Sunday matches for borrowed horses to play in Wednesday practices. I can’t begin to describe how thrilling that was.
What is on the horizon? What are you looking forward to?
I certainly hope I will continue to learn, grow, and make relevant new photographs and videos. As I wind down my client work, I hope to spend more time writing, with the specific goal of helping younger artists and photographers.
Thomas Kelly is a New Jersey based painter represented by several galleries. His narrative work has a signature style with its roots in expressionism.
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