Barbara Ess “Inside Out”

Magenta Plains

poster for Barbara Ess “Inside Out”
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Magenta Plains presents Inside Out, the first posthumous solo exhibition of Barbara Ess’
work, focusing on a selection of her celebrated pinhole photographs from the 1980s and 1990s. The
intimacy central to Ess’ photographic practice (an aspect that reverberates throughout all of the work she
produced across more than four decades) resonates today in a moment where isolation and uncertainty
about the boundaries of our reality are pervasive concerns in the daily discourse. The photographs on
view represent the last extant editions of these crucial works.
Inside Out is a celebration of Barbara Ess’ impressive repertoire with a deceptively simple photographic tool: the pinhole camera. Amidst the chaos and energy of downtown New York in the 1980s and ‘90s, Ess was constructing DIY cameras out of cardboard, and through them seeing into the eddies and ripples of the most nuanced human experiences. The works included in this exhibition are representative of the remarkable range she was able to achieve using only this homemade apparatus, and the emotional depths she was able to plumb with the vision it afforded her. This medium allowed her a more direct engagement with her subjects while also indicating Ess’ conflicted relationship with photography itself, a conflict that consumed her all her life.
Perhaps one of the most important dimensions of Ess’ multivalent artistic concern was the porous division between the human experience of interiority and one’s perception of the outside world. The Cartesian paradigm at the center of her work finds its expression here through Ess’ careful looking at intimate moments between others, intense self-portraiture, and hazy depictions of the natural world and our built environment. In all of these photographs a profound sense of vulnerability comes through the lens-less camera, emphasizing the frailty of our experiential perception and the ethereal beauty of the world we have built. These shadowy, duo-toned prints recall the early days of photography, simultaneously carrying the medium’s entire history while also shedding themselves of it.
Furthermore, this selection of photographs encompasses a crucial period in Ess’ career, in which these
timeless images were achieving national and international recognition beyond her already well-
established career in New York. Some of these very same photographs were shown at the High Museum
of Art in 1992, the Queens Museum of Art in 1993, the Fundacion la Caixa in Barcelona in 1994, and
published in Barbara Ess I Am Not This Body (Aperture, 2001). This was complimented by regular
exhibitions with Curt Marcus Gallery in New York, broadening the reach and appeal of her singular image-
making practice.
“Ess works in a gap between the out-there of the world and the in-here of the mind, not to heal the gap
but, for truth’s sake, precisely to widen it. She thereby establishes a zone congenial to honest
speculations of intelligence and to test-firings of the heat-seeking missile of the heart.”

–Peter Schjeldahl



from March 09, 2023 to April 22, 2023


Barbara Ess

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Venue Hours

From 11:00 To 18:00
Closed on Mondays, Sundays


Address: 149 Canal St., New York, NY 10002
Phone: 917-388-2464

At Bowery. Subway: B/D to Grand Street.

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