Barbara McDonnell

(b. 1947; resides Kirkwood, MO)

I did not want to document my father’s difficult days, that was never my intention. I was rather more interested in holding on to something that I knew would soon be lost and gone forever. - Barbara McDonnell, 2005

Late in 2003 Barbara McDonnell began photographing within the two-story brick house her father had lived in for fifty-eight years. She continued to make pictures after he died a few months later, as she and her brother gradually cleared the house of its contents and readied it for a new family. These interior views grow less cluttered and more airy as the transition takes place, transformed as much by the distinct light of the seasons as by the reduction of their contents. The photographs in theHomestead series account for a particular place as much as they do for a particular life, and in so doing reflect on more universal issues of change and of home. Shot with a 4×5 view camera and printed digitally, this is McDonnell’s first series in color.

McDonnell’s education includes a BA from Webster College (now Webster University), Webster Groves, Missouri (1969) and additional study at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. In St. Louis alone, her work is held in the collections of the St. Louis Art Museum, Webster University, Museum of Westward Expansion, and Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri.

Desert Radiator, April 2005Desert Radiator, April 2005
Kitchen Counter, July 2004Kitchen Counter, July 2004

Past Portfolio

Frozen moments of transitory stages of housing developments, eerily expansive but empty parking lots, and the demolition and expansion of consumer shopping centers suggest a narrative that unfolds before our eyes every day in the sprawl of the Midwest.  - Barbara McDonnell

Barbara McDonnell, like many of us, exists within this landscape. In 1999, passing through these places from the steady speed and comfort of her automobile, she saw the potential to slow down and examine the suburban landscape with a 7-by-17 large-format camera, historically referred to as a “banquet camera.” While Mc Donnell renders her subjects with careful attention to representation, sharpness and clarity, they begin to appear strange and alien, like the remnants of some strange culture that no longer exists. Absence of pedestrian traffic, and mile after mile of pavement makes up these faceless suburban centers. Cars appear as the only trace of humans. Mc Donnell gives her pictures an antiquated look, which contrasts the contemporary landscape by using a palladium printing process, which was popular from 1900 until the 1930’s.

Barbara Mc Donnell’s work has been exhibited in various locations in St. Louis, MO including solo exhibitions at the Sheldon Art Gallery, the Messing Gallery, the Midtown Arts Center, and group exhibitions at the Center for Photography, Art St. Louis, the University of Missouri, and the Componere Gallery.

Museum of Contemporary Photography

at Columbia College Chicago
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