Barbara Astman

The Newspaper Series, 2006-2007


From 2006, The Newspaper Series reminds us of the ritual of reading the morning paper, a custom easily taken for granted.  At that time, Astman read several newspapers daily, collecting and stacking them 3ft high around the perimeter of the walls of her studio for an entire year. Newspapers for Astman were a place for discovery. By photographing them and digitally stitching them together, she created 52 unique strips, deliberately invoking the passing of one year.


In accumulating images representative of our media-obsessed culture, Astman mimics the daily and weekly cycles of news media, and in doing so she offers a reflection on our collective obsession with mass media and its underlying influence.  On closer examination, Astman highlighted stories of tragedy, scandal, political instability, and local frenzy. Her image plays on our fascination with media, as well as its contradictory aspects as a compromised vehicle of communication.


This conceptual project is about a year of media. Each strip can be hundreds of photographs digitally stitched together representing a week of papers. In stacking them 7ft high, the installation references the seven days in a week.

“Barbara Astman’s career has spanned more than 23 years of photo-based media innovations, but has always been about more than the lure of new technology. Astman’s staged and sequential work suggests issues of identity, systems of representation, gender perspectives and the anti-narrative of popular irony.” - Ihor Holubizky, art/text 1998


“In the early 1980s, there was a clear delineation between what was considered photography and what was classified as art, and I felt I didn’t fit into either category. That is when I started calling myself a camera artist--one that was working within the contemporary art world as a whole.” - Barbara Astman

Whether household wares or store-bought novelty items such as key-chains, mugs, and ashtrays, much of Barbara Astman’s work involves the use of objects. Imbuing these with memories and histories by means of her artistic process, she dematerializes the material and makes personal the impersonal. In installations such as Clementine Suite (2006) and Enter Through the Giftshop (2011), or series such as Newspapers (2006) and The Red Series (1981), she explores the role that mundane objects play in forming our personal and collective histories while commenting on our consumer culture. Astman was one of the first to utilize the polaroid in her art, treating the medium more like a three-dimensional, malleable material than a flat, two-dimensional surface. She often photographs self-portraits that have been carefully choreographed, so that her image becomes removed from reality: a symbol of a constructed memory. Then, in a process of scratching into, enlarging, Xerox-ing or printing over, the photograph is further removed from a document, becoming closer to an object itself.

Barbara Astman creates photographic series that target the personal world through recollection or revelation. Her early work responds to contemporary feminist issues by incorporating humor and stereotypes to challenge the roles of women domestically and in the work place. Her large-scale photographs from the early 1980s are striking in their bold, unusual use of color and scale.


Throughout her career, Astman pioneered the artistic use of both analogue and digital reproduction techniques. She is among the first to discover and explore the technological practices and concepts that are key signifiers in contemporary art.


Born in Rochester NY, Astman studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the late 1960s when multi-media practices were the hotbed for artistic innovation. Astman came to Canada in 1970 during the wave of draft dodgers from the Vietnam War. Since the mid 1970s she has been a professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto.