Christopher Barnes

CHRISTOPHER BARNES

Artist’s Statement

In the mid 1980’s I worked documenting the restoration of the Great Hall on Ellis Island for the two architectural firms involved in the process of creating a National Museum of Immigration. Through the course of this project, I became intrigued by the large number of vacant and dilapidated buildings located on what is known as Ellis Islands 2 and 3. These were the Hospital and Contagious Disease wards where arriving immigrants were held and treated for any number of illnesses. Sitting untouched for over thirty years, they seemed to be in a perfect state of decay, very evocative of the sense of despair and loneliness possibly felt by those who found themselves there so many years ago. It was easy to imagine the feelings someone might have had, after traveling halfway around the world, and arriving at America’s doorstep, only to be delayed, or possibly denied entrance due to a medical condition. Indeed, if any of several serious diseases were diagnosed, immigrants would be put back on ships for return to their home countries. These spaces, once the site of so much activity, still seemed to resonate with the spirit of human aspiration and hope.

Photographing with only available light proved to be a time consuming, meditative and enjoyable process. Through the years many of the windows had become overgrown with vines and other vegetation creating very dark interiors and a quality of light that I found beautiful. Because of this, many of the exposures lasted for hours, with only two or three images being completed in a day.

A nonprofit organization, “Save Ellis Island“, has been formed to fundraise and program the restoration of these buildings in association with the National Park Service into what will be the Ellis Island Institute and Conference Center. Currently the buildings have been stabilized to halt any further decay, and reconstruction of the the Ferry Building is well underway.

I would like to thank the organization “Save Ellis Island” and the National Park Service Service for help with this project, and Tom Haas for his generous support in making this exhibition possible.

Christopher Barnes

FROM THE MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM  AUGUST 6, 2006

CHRISTOPHER BARNES

A TWOFER IN DAMARISCOTTA
I note also two shows at Gallery 170 in Damariscotta. I further note the splendidness of its Federal architecture, both outside and in. The gallery is offering "Ellis Island," large color photographs by Christopher Barnes, and "NYC Waterfront," paintings and watercolors by Joseph Fiore.
Barnes is a consummate documentary photographer, but in this event he takes his skills to another realm. He departs from rationalism to become a conceptualist - an artist who finds images that conform to his conception of what the image should be. In a sense, the images are partially pre-formed in his mind; he knows what he is looking for.
His subjects are the derelict hospital and contagious-disease wards at Ellis Island. Their walls are scabrous, leeching paint and plaster into corridors that have endless vistas. The tug - the tension - between the original governmental solidity of the structures and the current leprous decay is palpable. You can feel it with your skin.
The subject matter is obvious and evokes loneliness and despair, but Barnes' images transcend the obvious. They are magnificent extractions of powerful architecture with an eye for metaphor and the surreal. The prints are not titled but one of a toilet invaded by ivy into which a dead bird is embedded would be surreal if it were not real. Another print is of the cast-iron monster of a furnace, virtually a railroad engine in captivity. It is all done with available light and a flawless compositional sense.
We have seen Fiore's paintings over the years. He is a master of the urban idiom and his perceptions of the waters that surround New York are those of an intimate. He paints the waterfront, the rivers, the railyards, the underside of the West Side Highway, the gray skies and winter ice as only an intimate can. It's a pleasure to see such emotional and evocative painting.

Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 40 years. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]

FROM THE MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM  AUGUST 6, 2006 CHRISTOPHER BARNES A TWOFER IN DAMARISCOTTA I note also two shows at Gallery 170 in Damariscotta. I further note the splendidness of its Federal architecture, both outside and in. The gallery is offering "Ellis Island," large color photographs by Christopher Barnes, and "NYC Waterfront," paintings and watercolors by Joseph Fiore. Barnes is a consummate documentary photographer, but in this event he takes his skills to another realm. He departs from rationalism to become a conceptualist - an artist who finds images that conform to his conception of what the image should be. In a sense, the images are partially pre-formed in his mind; he knows what he is looking for. His subjects are the derelict hospital and contagious-disease wards at Ellis Island. Their walls are scabrous, leeching paint and plaster into corridors that have endless vistas. The tug - the tension - between the original governmental solidity of the structures and the current leprous decay is palpable. You can feel it with your skin. The subject matter is obvious and evokes loneliness and despair, but Barnes' images transcend the obvious. They are magnificent extractions of powerful architecture with an eye for metaphor and the surreal. The prints are not titled but one of a toilet invaded by ivy into which a dead bird is embedded would be surreal if it were not real. Another print is of the cast-iron monster of a furnace, virtually a railroad engine in captivity. It is all done with available light and a flawless compositional sense. We have seen Fiore's paintings over the years. He is a master of the urban idiom and his perceptions of the waters that surround New York are those of an intimate. He paints the waterfront, the rivers, the railyards, the underside of the West Side Highway, the gray skies and winter ice as only an intimate can. It's a pleasure to see such emotional and evocative painting. Philip Isaacson of Lewiston has been writing about the arts for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 40 years. He can be contacted at: [email protected]