Tina Barney makes big pictures out of tiny gestures. Early on, she realized that if she used a large-format camera registering fine detail, her photographs could be printed at the size of tableau paintings, enlivened by the chintz fabrics, wooden wainscots, and seersucker suits typical of the upper-class milieu she inhabits.
Born into an affluent German-Jewish clan and marrying a (now ex-) husband whose family gathered at the old-school WASP enclave of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, Barney made her reputation by recording her relatives’ private rituals. She later broadened her scope to include portraits of other families, in Europe and Asia, as privileged as her own. Too often she is misconstrued as a kind of reality-show producer, offering peephole glimpses of lavish lifestyles, but Tina Barney (Rizzoli), a survey of more than 30 years of work, out September 19, shows her to be the Jamesian artist she is: a keen observer devising pictorial strategies to illuminate the subtle ties that bind family, in the rarefied precincts she calls home.