The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Urban Geometry
Barbara Crane
Chicago Loop, 1976-1978
Christopher Stromee
Photo by Barbara Crane . Source: higherpictures.com
Barbara Crane

Clearly reflecting a modernist aesthetic, Barbara Crane’s “Chicago Loop” images follow the black and white preference of many modernist photographers. Though focusing on commercial buildings in Chicago’s downtown (defined by the encompassing elevated commuter train tracks,) Crane does not provide a standard architectural tour. Instead, her real theme is the compressed geometry of intersecting buildings. These closely framed images highlight rhythmic hard-edged patterns, walls of windows, abutting textures of bricks and steel, and rectangular outlines. Framed well below roof level at midsection, individual structures tend to be obscured by the cross-section views. Consequently, viewers may not be able to distinguish individual buildings within perplexing patches of cityscape. Like inscriptions in stone, the 32 small black and white vintage gelatin silver prints in this exhibition require close inspection.

Photo by Barbara Crane . Source: higherpictures.com
Barbara Crane, "Chicago Loop"

Many of the photographs appear to be composed of two or three images placed side by side. An image showing a glass and steel office building edging out the landmark Marina and another showing a portion of a Venetian Gothic façade against a later modernist structure are examples, as is one with three highly textured rectangles of stone separated vertically by black. In fact, each of these compositions was created by a single shot, Crane finding just the right position from which to capture such juxtapositions. Less ambiguous images include a jumble of receding building walls contrasting with the diagonals of a fire escape and the symmetry of an undulating glass apartment façade.

Printing her own images to preserve the highest quality, Crane considered the shapes of the negative and paper integral to the image, extending black borders to fill the space. In a curious way, they enhance the theme of geometric abstraction and remind me of the same architecturally suggestive format used earlier by German-American abstract painter, Josef Albers.

Photo by Barbara Crane . Source: higherpictures.com
Barbara Crane, "Chicago Loop 3814"

Crane studied under Aaron Siskind at the famed Illinois Institute of Technology, earned her graduate degree in photography in 1966 from the Institute of Design, and was a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1967 to 1995. Her astute architectural orientation may well have been influenced by her training at ITT, the American home of Mies van der Rohe, and by her long-time residence in the city known as the birthplace of the skyscraper.

Barbara Crane
Chicago Loop, 1976-1978


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