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Remembering Barbara Crane Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

15 August 2019

Barbara Crane, the pioneering fine art photographer and influential educator who explored the medium as a vehicle for self expression for over 60 years, died at the age of 91 on Aug. 7.

Born in 1928 in Chicago, her father was an amateur photographer who used the family as his models and always bought the latest gear. She attributed her love of photography to him. He gave her a Brownie for her 10th birthday and showed her how to develop film in their Winnetka home when she was 12.

"It was like magic for me as a child," she remembered in an interview with Sheridan Road. "After he exposed the paper, he'd hand me the photo to dip in the developer and then the fixer. Then I'd see the image appear."

Crane studied art history at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., for three years before moving to New York City with her husband to complete her studies at New York University.

She briefly worked as a portrait photographer in New York before returning to Chicago where she earned a master's degree at the Institute of Design in 1966 based on a series of abstract nudes titled Human Forms.

'It was like magic for me as a child.'

Crane began teaching photography in 1964 and joined the faculty of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1967 where she remained a professor emerita after retiring in 1995.

She was celebrated for her Chicago Loop series from 1976-1978 showing human beings navigating a forest of skyscrapers.

In the early 1980s, she shot a series of Polaroids of people embracing each other called Private Views, which was published in book form by the Aperture Foundation in 2009.

In 1985 she traveled to China as a cultural emissary, becoming the first foreigner to photograph in some Chinese provinces.

She continued photographing her home town into the final decade of her life.

She has had over 90 solo exhibitions and seven retrospectives since 1964. Barbara Crane: Challenging Vision is based on her 2009 retrospective that opened at the Chicago Cultural Center before traveling to the Amon Carter Museum in Texas and the Griffin Museum of Photography in Massachusetts.

She received National Endowment for the Arts grants in 1974 and 1988, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in Photography in 1979 and an Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowship Award in Photography in 2001.

In 2006 she was honored as a Distinguished Artist by both the Union League Club of Chicago and Brown University and was named the first recipient of the Ruth Horwich Award to a Famous Chicago Artist conferred by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs in 2009. In 2013 she was honored by the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago and in 2015 received the Silver Camera Award from the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College in Chicago. In April 2016 she received the Professional Achievement Award from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Her work has been collected by the Art Institute of Chicago, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, George Eastman House/International Museum of Photography, the Library of Congress, the Center for Creative Photography and many other institutions.

Her Web site hosts several portfolios of her images over six decades.

Those images demonstrate that the magic she discovered as a child never dulled for her even in her 90s. But they prove something else as well.

"I need to develop a singular idea in order to get satisfaction that I've done something of worth," she said in that interview. Those images also show she was never short of ideas.

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