Scenes from a Movie For One, 1997

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Barbara Astman, Scenes from a Movie for One, 1997


Scenes from a Movie for One is sensual, evocative, and passionate, incorporating a physical connection with the body, greater than in her previous autobiographical work.


Unlike Astman’s earlier image-text work, this is a silent film, which boasts one of the characteristics of all film: to record and suspend something in a temporal vitrine.  The finale – a chiaroscuro effect – is about the presence of the body rather than portraiture as character study.  It brings to mind Eugène Carrière’s turn-of-the-century paintings, as early “static” films of Andy Warhol, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s blinking eye in 2001 Space Odessey, which is at once trying to see and being blinded.


Eight self-portraits, originally SX-70 Polaroids, were re-photographed as 35-millimeter black-and-white negatives and enlarged.  A Polaroid close-up box was used to shoot colour details of the prints, which converted the black and white to tones.  After pealing off the Polaroid backing, Astman scratched the image surface – a reductive rather than additive process.  The images were re-photographed in 35-millimeter and enlarged to 20x24 in Ektacolor prints. 


The second reading of the “scenes” were multiple image works, 32 “scenes” assembled in a grid of four by eight, and produced as colour and black-and-white Xerox “scripts” as heat transfers on paper.  The laborious process does not exemplify complexity for its own sake, but a gradual disintegration of any notion of the photograph-as-document.  This means to this end is a way of literally and figuratively scratching out a personal correspondence from the edge. 

“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.