CULTURE

Tina Barney’s Photographs Exist Where Real Housewives and Henry James Meet

The chronicler of the lavish life has a new book out September 19.


Courtesy of Tina Barney

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.