Miranda Barnes is a Caribbean-Anglo American photographer based in Brooklyn, NY.
Barnes’ work is focused on the quiet and easily felt expressions of the human spirit. Projects like MLK 50—covering the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination—captures her artist’s eye and a passion for criminal justice.
She talks to us about photo books that inspire her work, best advice received, and a favorite photographic memory.
The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing The Promise,
by Paul Gardullo, Michelle Delaney, Jacquelyn D. Serwer, Lonnie G. Bunch
“I picked this book up at the Strand on a whim a few years ago. I love how the book celebrates the everyday occurrences of African American life. I remember being so excited when I saw a 1948 photograph of young girls sitting in their ballerina outfits for a photograph for the first time. The book serves as a reminder of how important it is to see black people doing mundane, regular things.”
by Robert Frank
“This was my first real photo book. I won it through a school competition during my freshman year of college. I remember opening up the book on my way out of class on the Q27 bus. It's special to me because it was the first time seeing a photographer's work who I'd admired so much, as tangible inspiration that I could call my own.”
Bury Me With The Lo On,
by Thirstin Howl, III and Tom Gould
“While this book is from 2016, it plays an influential part in my photography. For starters, it was one of the reasons I got into medium format film. As a native New Yorker, I grew up only wanting to wear Polo at some point, so to see that embodied into one book always brings up memories. One of the authors and subjects of the book, Thirstin Howl, also let me photograph him the following day, after I somehow convinced him at the release party the night before. It was one of my first medium format photographs, and still a favorite.”
by Ellen Von Unwerth
“Unwerth was one of the first female photographers I made myself familiar with as I became interested in photography. Her work with Adriana Lima in Wicked is one of the books I find myself coming back to for the simplicity of it, and it makes me wish I could make black and white portraits look so effortless.”
A Long Walk Home,
by Eli Reed and Paul Theroux
“It's the biggest photo book I own, and the only book I have that is a complete overview of a photographer's work. I got it for 50% off at a MoMA sale because one page had a tear. I love Reed's work, so to be able to reference a majority of it—from his time overseas, rural America, and commissioned portraits—it is crucial to my understanding on how an artist can develop their eye over time.”
Miranda, what is something in your industry that deserves more attention?
I think the industry is finally starting to pay attention to how crucial it is for different perspectives to tell stories. I feel honored to be apart of that change and can only hope it becomes more inclusive.
Can you describe your favorite photographic memory?
I had the opportunity to photograph the 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination in Memphis, Tennessee for the New York Times (April 2017). One of the pieces was to photograph six middle schoolers who attended a few miles from Lorraine Motel.
As I was standing in the office, waiting to get clearance, a young girl, who was a tall as me (I’m 5 feet tall and had a backpack on) but most likely in seventh grade, looks me up and down and with the biggest southern drawl and asks, “You grown?”
I started laughing and completely lost it. She ended up laughing too when she realized I was with the reporter!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Finding the balance between taking advantage of shooting but also taking time for yourself to immerse yourself in other activities. It hasn’t been from just one person, but collective advice. I see those who I admire in the industry take advantage of opportunities, but also but also keeping in mind their health. I strive to be like that.
What can older people in photography learn from the younger generation?
To take a risk on us, as they needed someone to do so when they were our age. I have found a sliding scale of those who are adamant in helping me, and those that don’t want to at all. Regardless, my generation will make it happen one way or another.
Where do you look for inspiration outside of photography?
Sometimes, I have to remind myself how nice it is to just walk in New York to draw inspiration. When I’m not in a rush, I’ll take the long way home. Also, old ad campaigns, and fashion. I collect designer vintage whenever I can and find myself drawn to certain designers, such as Prada and Fendi. I’ll try to research which decade I’m most intrigued by, and see what they were inspired by at that time.