Cole Barash on What He Learned From Daniel Shea About Presenting Fine-Art Photography
March 29, 2019
Whether he’s planning a book, an exhibition, or an editorial or commercial client, Cole Barash puts a lot of thought into sequencing and is always aware that the arrangement of images will influence their meaning. As Barash explains in our story on visual storytelling on social media (“Social Media Strategy: Cole Barash on Sequencing Personal and Assignment Work“), he is equally thoughtful when he puts together an Instagram album, which might include installation shots of a gallery show or sample prints from an ongoing series. Barash says that in thinking about how to present his work, he’s been inspired by Daniel Shea, a fine-art photographer who has published several books and also shoots editorial and advertising assignments. The winner of the 2018 Paul Huf award from the Foam photography museum in Amsterdam, Shea often incorporates sculpture and architecture into his work.
“I think Daniel does a really good job of showcasing his current works, installations and in-progress ideas,” Barash says. “He is so incredibly dedicated to it and seems to keep elevating each installation, object and piece he makes.”
Barash says Shea is less interested in what a photo depicts than in how the photo “lives as an object, whether that is in a sequence, or a frame or in another medium such as film or something sculptural.” On Instagram, Shea provides glimpses into the making of his work: page proofs at the printer, or the design of an exhibition.
“I am just obsessed with process and thinking about process,” Shea explains. “There’s a range of ways to show the different aspects of your work, whether that’s a book or an exhibition or just a photograph.” The details about how he presents each thing he makes “are almost more important to me than the thing itself. They mean a lot to me.” When he makes a book, for example, what he shares on Instagram is the book, not the photos in the book.
Barash recalls, for example, how Shea shared his 2018 book 43-35 10th Street, which mixes images of new construction in his gentrifying neighborhood in Long Island City, New York, with images of buildings in Brasilia. “He never posted a video of flipping through it, just showing it all. He would only post one to two images of spreads,” Barash says. If you are intrigued, “you must commit to going and buying the book to fully see it and understand it.”
Shea says he’s ambivalent about Instagram’s enormous impact “on culture and relationships.” He notes, “Most business is done on Instagram—it’s how an art director reaches out or an art collector reaches out.” He misses “the formality of email” which helped him separate “my personal life and my professional life.” Now if he doesn’t reply to an email immediately, he gets a direct message on Instagram. “I actually do rely on it, which is what I feel resentful about sometimes,” he says. To maintain what he calls “a healthy relationship” with social media, he doesn’t think about cultivating a following or “the positive feedback loop” of likes. When he shares his art, “There’s no real intended audience in mind beyond a kind of generic art audience, and that could be anyone. It could be my grandmother or a sophisticated downtown kid with a fresh BFA,” he says. “I want everything I do to have as broad an appeal as possible, so that anybody could be interested in it, but also someone with a contemporary art background or an architecture background could start to peel apart the layers a bit.” By offering on Instagram only a hint of his finished products, and the process that went into them, Shea encourages further investigation into his work’s many layers.
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