Photography alumna finds home away from home


Kelly Wenzel

Photography alumna Barbara Diener introduced her work Jan. 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building for the opening reception of the “What Remains” exhibit.

By Campus Editor

When 2013 photography alumna Barbara Diener’s father died, the artist felt compelled to reconnect with her heritage and reminisce about Mechernich, the small town in Germany where she grew up. 

Diener took the idea of longing for comfort and a sense of home and traveled to various small towns in Illinois that were demographically similar to her hometown in Germany, photographing things she encountered that reminded her of home. She wanted to capture a sense of belonging she never felt.

“I started finding these towns that really reminded me of home,” Diener said. “The subjects that I encountered really had this sense of belonging, and they knew that was their home, [which was] very opposite to me.”

Diener’s project’s collection of photographs is part of the “What Remains” exhibit in Columbia’s Museum of Contemporary Photography in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building that explores the connection between human identity and place through artworks by artists physically dislocated from their homes. The exhibit includes work from Pao Houa Her, Jon Rafman and Lieko Shiga.

The exhibition, introduced by Associate Director & Curator Karen Irvine of the MoCP, was organized by MoCP assistant curator Allison Grant.

One piece in Diener’s collection includes a photograph of an older woman gazing affectionately across a field of crops.

“I intentionally don’t have the people I’m photographing look at the camera,” Diener said. “I want them to have their own solitary experience as I’m photographing them for my project.”

Erin McCarthy, an associate professor in the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department, attended the opening reception of the gallery on Jan. 26. McCarthy said she attended because she regularly takes her classes to the MoCP and likes to keep up on what types of galleries are showing in the museum space.

“This one interests me because of the subject matter and her story of being an outsider, but [also] seeing familiar symbols of where she came from and finding them in her new location,” McCarthy said. 

Diener said she plans on traveling back to Germany this summer for the first time in three years, where she will conduct a similar photography project.

“This gives a nice pause to the work I’ve done here—at least in Illinois,” Diener said.