NEW YORK, NY.-
The sudden loss of her father when she was 25 was a pivotal moment in Barbara Diener's life. She never had the opportunity to say goodbye or to tell him how much he meant to her. In the 10 years since his death, she has carried his memory with her, and his absence infuses her reality. The loss of her father, and her desire to reconnect with him, is the underlying theme in Diener's new monograph, Phantom Power
Diener was raised in a small town in Germany without any sense of formal religion or spirituality. While she describes herself as not having a religious bone in her body, she recognizes there is still a great deal we don't know about human consciousness and what happens to us once our bodies expire. In Phantom Power, she explores and interprets the possibilities through her photography using various techniques such as suggestive aberrations and double exposures which draw on an expansive history of photographers who have experimented with the medium's unique relationship with the concept of truth.
The idea for Phantom Power was hatched while Diener was working on a previous photo project titled Sehnsucht, which is a German compound word derived from yearning (das Sehnen) and addiction (die Sucht). Roughly translated it means a longing for someone or something that cannot be fully defined and will not be found. Diener was photographing in small, rural towns in Illinois that she was drawn to as they reminded her of Mechernich, the German town where she grew up. The concept of home and family (or lack thereof) is another recurring theme in Diener's work.
During her travels she met a woman named Kathy who owned a local diner that she frequented. They bonded over their common connection to the nostalgia of place - Diener recalling Mechernich, her childhood home which is intertwined with memories of her father, and Kathy who is living on the ancestral land of her husband John's farm which she believes is haunted by his ancestors.
Kathy's fervent belief in the spectral sparked Diener's own interest in the unexplained and tied back to her ongoing curiosity about religion, spirituality and the human desire to believe that something else happens after we die and that a part of us - the spirit or soul - continues on. She began her project by photographing her new friend's ghost-hunting rituals which led to conducting her own search for visible clues of the supernatural.
Diener writes: "Since its invention, photography has lent a sense of immortality to its subjects. In recent years the paranormal has received amplified media attention through numerous 'reality' television programs that sensationalize any phenomena for the camera. On the contrary, my approach is self-reflective and curious. To make the resulting images I have adopted both traditional and contemporary methods of capturing the invisible, as well as employed my own interpretation of the magical and mystical."
Phantom Power includes insightful texts by Allison Grant, assistant professor of photography, Department of Art and Art History, University of Alabama, and former assistant curator of education and exhibitions, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago, and Gregory Harris, an assistant curator of photography at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. Lisa Janes, a Chicago based artist, curator, and educator, interviews Barbara Diener.
In her essay, Allison Grant writes: "Will some readers of this book dismiss its embrace of the spectral? Or course. Will some see no mysticism in the fog and no specter in the light? No doubt. Diener does not seek to convert the disbeliever. Her works pursue much deeper questions about the spiritual and emotional undercurrents of loss, and the profound human desire to understand and contend with the reality that human life is finite, and the past will never be fully accessible to the living ... We each grapple with this reality through mysterious means ... Whether those means align with the truth may not be the point."
Born in 1982 in Germany, Barbara Diener received her Bachelor of Fine Art in photography from the California College of the Arts and Masters in Fine Art in Photography from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been exhibited at numerous venues, among them the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL, Hyde Park Art Center, Hyde Park, IL, David Weinberg Gallery, Chicago, IL, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, NM, Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA, Pingyao Photo Festival, China, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Philadelphia, PA, among others. Diener's photographs are part of several private and institutional collections including the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. She is currently participating in the residency program HATCH Projects 2015-2016 through the Chicago Artist Coaltition. Diener is a winner of Flash Forward 2013, the recipient of a Follett Fellowship at Columbia College Chicago and was awarded the Albert P. Weisman Award in 2012 and 2013. In addition, Diener received an Individual Artist Grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Events in 2015. She is the Collection Manager in the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and teaches photography at Oakton Community College and at the School of the Art Institute.