Barbara Crane, People of the North Portal, 1970-1971
Private Views was one of the best photo books of 2009 and introduced many to Barbara Crane. Shot in the summer months of the early 1980’s around Chicago, Crane captured intimate details of fashion, relationships and sweaty bodies. Though she used a large format camera, Polaroid film and flash, the compositions have the freedom of a much smaller camera.
In ”People of the North Portal,” Crane uses a single, busy doorway in Chicago to create an entirely different portrait of the American population.
With each of her series Crane selects the best equipment, film and technique to solve an artistic problem - from abstract, super-saturated Polaroids to perfectly composed large format photographs of the Chicago elevated. Through her mastery of craft, Crane’s work from decades ago feels immediate and contemporary. My first reaction to ”People of the North Portal,” before noticing the date, was that it was inspired by Bill Sullivan’s ”More Turns” series from the mid-2000s.
I asked Crane a few question about ”People of the North Portal.” You can see more of the work at Higher Pictures gallery or the Museum of Contemporary Photography.
Why did you focus on this location for the series?
I focused on this location of the left front door of the Museum of Science and Industry because of the large quantity and variety of people coming through the door. I was also interested in the brass door frame and the black background inside the doorway which would help make the people look like they were on a stage set. I went there day after day with a 4x5 convertible to 5x7 wooden Deardorff view camera, which was attached to a Gitzo tripod, in a case filled 4x5 and 5x7 sheet film holders.
Once you selected this location and camera equipment, were there other considerations or rules you established for what you wanted capture?
Each time I went to photography I had in mind both specific people interactions and formal spatial relationships. For instance, people holding hands, talking to each other, someone close to the camera while at the same time it was focused on people in the doorway. It was both an intellectual and emotional experience for me. I had specific ideas for every day I went there to photograph.
How do you know when you have enough photos in a series like “People of the North Portal”? When or what causes you to stop?
I have enough photos when I think I have thoroughly investigated all facets that were available in the subject matter as well as the formal issues I was exploring.
all photographs copyright Barbara Crane.