Fine Art Photography Daily

Barbara Diener: Sehnsucht

Today’s post contributed by Grant Gill.

This past spring I popped into neighboring Chicago to visit the MFA thesis exhibition for Columbia College Chicago.  I was enamored by the images and installation of Barbara Diener.  Her space consisted of a slide show, with each image from Sehnsucht bleeding into the next.  As the audience is slowly transitioned from one image to another, it is clear that memory and imagery are fluent and inevitable.

I have always seen home as a relative concept.  It is dependent on location and the ability to create relationships to those in arms reach.  While very reminiscent to traditional ideas of travel and the road, Barbara speaks more to the ability of projecting home onto any place.  She finds comfort in passing through rural towns, finding moments of reflection and comfort.

Barbara was born and raised in Germany and received her BFA in photography from the California College of the Arts and MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has been exhibited at Recession Art, Brooklyn, NY, Lilllstreet Art Center, Chicago, IL, Riverside Art Center, Chicago, IL. Pingyao Photo Festival, China, The Arcade, Chicago, IL, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Philadelphia, PA, Darkroom Gallery, Essex Junction, VT and Project Basho, Philadelphia, PA among others.

Barbara is a winner of Flash Forward 2013, the recipient of a Follett Fellowship, Columbia College Chicago and was awarded the Albert P. Weisman Award in 2012 and 2013. She is currently working as curatorial assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, IL.


Sehnsucht is a German compound word derived from yearning (das Sehnen) and addiction (die Sucht). But even when considered together these words cannot adequately translate the full meaning. It is a longing for someone or something that cannot be fully defined and will not be found.

It is hard to define the abstract feeling of comfort one equates with home. Initially motivated by a longing for this feeling, I made these photographs in small towns and rural communities in the United States and Europe that are demographically similar to the town in Germany where I grew up. The focus of this project has shifted to the communities in towns that are maintained despite a disappearing rural lifestyle. My photographs do not merely document but rather translate the ritualistic and spiritual undercurrent of these places into concrete visual representations. The somberness of the inhabitants in these photographs is balanced by the beauty of the landscape, discouraging a one-sided understanding of them. The landscape becomes a character itself and represents the pride in the land I have encountered in my subjects.

These villages are as complex as the sense of rootedness I am searching for and the deliberate linking of disparate subjects (portraits, landscapes, interiors) mirrors this. My attraction to the rural does not only stem from my upbringing. There is a quietude to this environment that strips away distractions and amplifies the inevitable cycles of life. The people in my photographs exist in their own world and this spatial and emotional distance functions as a reminder that these places remain impermeable and the comfort I am searching for is indeed elusive.

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