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"Exposure #46, N.Y.C., 555 8th Avenue, 10.09.06, 8:23 p.m." is one of a collection of Barbara Probst's series on exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Probst's 'Exposures' a haunting and eerily resonant experience

by Sarah Baicker
April 12, 2007

A photograph freezes a moment in time; but that isolated moment isn't observed from just one angle or just one distance.

Such is the idea proposed by German photographer Barbara Probst, whose exhibit “Exposures" has opened at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, the first stop in an extended, multi-city tour. Probst, who exhibits internationally and was part of a group show at New York's Museum of Modern Art, questions the ambiguities inherent in photography by capturing one specific moment from various angles and distances.

The photographs in “Exposures” are grouped in series, each series including two to six photos of uniform size. They are framed simply in either black or white painted wood, and most of the series include a mix of color and black-and-white photographs. Often one colored photo is set amid the black and whites, drawing the viewer’s eye to specific aspects of a scene that might otherwise not stand out—the luscious red of a young woman’s dress, or the retro mint green of a linoleum floor.

The series are arranged in geometrical patterns on the tall white walls of the museum’s ground floor space, which has been split into three adjoining, windowless rooms. In some of the sequences, Probst has captured moments of joviality and youth. In one, a woman appears to be photographing herself for fun, lying beneath a bristling haystack of camera-bearing tripods. In another, groups of tourists make faces while photographing one another.

But another type of series foregoes the idea of the joyful moment entirely. In these, the subsequent photos become haunting reminders that these individuals who seem so engaged in their own moments of privacy aren’t really alone. Probst seems to be saying that we aren’t really alone.

One pair of photographs, for example, features a close-up color shot of a little girl in a pink jumper holding her mother's hand. The second photograph is taken from a distance above and much farther away, likely from an overlooking rooftop, and is shot with a magnifying lens. That it is in black and white makes it feel even more as if some “other” is documenting their activities. The image is hauntingly voyeuristic, and one can’t help but feel almost a sense of panic for this girl and her mother: Who’s watching them? And why?

In fact, in a number of the series, Probst’s subjects appear victimized—or about to be victimized—by some unknown pursuer. That sense of vague foreboding lingers beyond the gallery walls. Even after leaving the exhibit, it is impossible not to periodically glance over your shoulder, just in case.

“Exposures,” which is curated by Karen Irvine, will be on display through June 2 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, 600 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. For more information and museum hours, see