Barbara Cole is a self-taught artist from Toronto known for her romantic, fragile and delicate underwater photographs. Long drawn to reflections and motives when she practiced swimming herself, Barbara Cole discovered photography at the age of 19 when she was the editor of the fashion pages of the Toronto Sun. This universe strongly influences the photographic production of the artist. From her time in the world of fashion, Barbara Cole retains a strong taste for the human figure and a draconian methodology to conceptualize and orchestrate her compositions.
Focusing on the distortion and effects of immersing the human body in water, Barbara Cole's photographic production offers refracted and deformed images; a reflection of an atmosphere that, like the Impressionists, captures the fleetingness of a moment by investing in luminous tones.
Perceptual games are also a fundamental theme in Barbara Cole's work. Progressing slowly towards the almost total dissolution of the figure, the artist creates a dramatic tension between figure and form, testing the nature of photography and its impact on our experience of reality.
Over the past decade, her practice has explored the aquatic environment, and water has become a natural lens that refocuses and reinterprets her pictorial aesthetic. This element allows her to move the human figure unconventionally, while photography gives her the opportunity to play with the notions of time and place. Working in basins of water, Barbara Cole created for herself an ideal space to explore the duality between figuration and abstraction.
If photography is fundamentally an art of light, underwater photography is all the more so. Barbara Cole uses a slow shutter speed and a flash button to create the diffuse and ethereal effects represented in her practice. The texture of the surface of the water, enhanced by the light of the sky and reflected clouds, is thus captured with the movement of the body of the model. Thanks to many years of experimenting with film and polaroids, Barbara Cole is now an ardent advocate of unretouched photographs. Although she now uses digital cameras, she works with as little retouching as possible.
Throughout her career, Barbara Cole has worked internationally on commercial projects and has created several large-scale commissions, including installations for the atrium at the M. Lau Breast Cancer Centre in Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital and for the Trump Hollywood in Hollywood Beach, Florida. Her series Underworld was exhibited at the Canadian Embassies in Tokyo and Washington, D.C. Barbara Cole has won prestigious awards such the Grand Prize at the Festival International de la Photographie de Mode in Cannes, and third prize at the International Photography Awards in New York. In 2012, the acclaimed documentary series Snapshot: The Art of Photography II featured an episode devoted exclusively to Barbara Cole’s photographic practice. Barbara Cole lives and works in Toronto, Canada.