For fine arts photographer Denee Barr, snapping a photo is just the beginning of the creative process.
Behind closed doors in the darkroom in her Columbia home, Barr leaves traditional photography behind and enters a world influenced by the concepts of physics, film techniques, the art of paper-making and theater.
What emerges are multilayered works of art in which the photographic image is transformed, creating new visions out of such ordinary sights as a bicycle propped on a deserted street in Oxford, England, or a crowded market on a Caribbean island.
Barr displays her untraditional style in her current exhibit, "Personal Photographs and Intimate Moments," which runs through Oct. 30 at the Artists' Gallery in Columbia's American City Building. The 10 works are based on photos that Barr shot on visits to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the West Indies.
Barr created the works by developing black and white negatives and printing them on paper she had made and brushed with liquid photo emulsion. She then dabbed on splashes of color using gouache, an opaque paint similar to watercolors.
With ragged, brown-stained edges, the images of a wedding and village market framed in black evoke a sense of the past, as if the photos were found in an old family album instead of being pictures that Barr shot while vacationing just a few years ago.
The works leave the impression of "reaching for torn pages out of a book," Barr, 38, said. "They're sentimental, very fragile."
Using handmade paper is the latest innovation of Barr's evolving style. Even though she continues to experiment with different techniques and the subjects and locations of her photos may change, Barr's works center around one theme.
"All the works I put out have been a visual diary. They're personal, special moments," she said.
Barr first began exhibiting her work after a two-week trip to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1989 as a vacation from her pursuit of a bachelor's degree in radio, television and film at the University of Maryland.
Although Barr did not intend to exhibit her vacation photos, a friend suggested that she show her work in a Caribbean boutique. Since that first exhibit, Barr's work has been shown in England as part of a gallery tour of international artists that was shown at schools and public buildings in 1995 and 1996. Her work is regularly exhibited at the Artists' Gallery in Columbia, a cooperative run by area artists.
"These are single works of art unlike typical fine arts photographs where one can order multiple copies," said Ann Schluederberg, publicity chairman for the gallery. "Each print becomes an individual work of art."
Originally an engineering major, Barr changed to radio, film and television after deciding she wasn't cut out academically to be an engineer. Finding a growing interest in the fine arts, she later took courses in paper- and print-making.
In her work, Barr draws on her academic experiences, employing the concepts of physics to bend light and produce colors while developing black-and-white prints. Using her training in film, she doesn't allow the images in her work to be constrained by their frames.
In one of the works in her current show, a marketplace scene in St. Vincent, Barr plays with the depth of field, drawing the viewer's eye to the center of the image, where a woman in a red dress checks produce at a stand, and then to the far edge, where her camera caught a man moving out of view.
"By having a person going through, you can feel the motion of a person passing by and you can really participate, step right into the image," she said.
Over the years, Barr has produced several series of works based on photos she shot in the West Indies as well in England, the Grand Canyon and her own back yard. For her exhibitions, she draws on her collection of photos to create a story, such as the wedding that is pictured in her current show.
"This show opens a window for people who haven't been down to the Caribbean," she said. "You can see the day-to-day life. It's really not much different than here."
She has already completed the works for her next exhibit at the Artists' Gallery, which include images focusing on the legs of guests attending the wedding pictured in the current show. "That's me having fun," Barr said of the black-and-white images of thighs and calves printed on handmade paper.
With the production of her next show completed, Barr said she's shuttering her darkroom so she can focus on her two children, 5-year-old Mariama and 6-month-old Hadar.
"Now is my time to get back in balance in terms of spending more time with the kids and family," she said. "I don't need to pick up my camera and do anything."