Arts December 22, 2023

The Beginning

Tina Barney's new book showcases early career in Sun Valley

 Photographer Tina Barney has found great success over the course of her 40-year career, with photographs in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Nicola Erni Collection in Zug, Switzerland. But prior to her massive success, one museum had the greatest influence on her career: the Sun Valley Museum of Art (SVMOA), formerly the Sun Valley Center for the Arts & Humanities. Barney’s recently published photography book, “The Beginning,” highlights photos taken in the late 1970s in Sun Valley, where she learned everything she knows.    

The idea for The Beginning came to Barney during COVID while she was at her house in Rhode Island with little else to do than explore memories and photo negatives. She thought it would be a great time to scan these 35mm negatives from her time living in Sun Valley. As she scanned, she started to mentally put together a photography book that would explore this critical time in her life and career. Barney looked through roughly 5,000 negatives, picking out the selection that would ultimately make it into the book. “I usually make decisions in every way very quickly,” she says. “There was sort of preliminary editing that went on—I really kind of knew what was good and what wasn’t.”  

With the photos selected, she then needed a designer to put together the book. She reached out to friend and designer, Tod Lippy. Barney knew him from contributing to his unusual, artsy magazine Esopus. The unmediated format of Lippy’s magazine and the ability to combine contributions from various creative disciplines convinced Barney that he’d be exciting to work with. Lippy signed on, taking the scanned material without direction from Barney, and simply created. “Months later, he came back with a dummy that was beyond my dreams,” Barney says.    

With the book together, Barney needed to find a publisher and ultimately went with Radius. Part of what convinced her to go with this publisher was that one of her Sun Valley photography teachers, Mark Klett, had published several books with them. “And so I thought, if Mark worked with them, it’s gotta be good,” she says.    

The fact that Sun Valley managed to influence Barney’s photography career once again seems fitting, considering that her entire career began here. In 1973, Barney and her ex-husband decided to leave New York City. Then, they traveled to different areas to decide where to move. Barney had a previous experience with Sun Valley when she was nine. Her mother brought her and her sister on a trip from New York City. The three stayed in the Sun Valley Lodge, giving Barney an affectionate memory of the area. With that in mind, Barney and her husband went skiing and liked it enough to move there with their kids. The family didn’t know anyone, but they promptly moved into a Cottonwood condo, enrolled their kids in Hemingway, and decided to stay for a year or two—which would ultimately be ten.    

Barney was no photographer then, just someone with an appreciation for photography. While walking around Sun Valley, she saw a gallery with photos on the wall. She found herself thinking, There’s civilization here. The gallery owner told her about an arts organization, the Sun Valley Center for the Arts & Humanities, which opened a few years before 1971. Barney visited the SVCA and saw a real Ansel Adams photo on the wall, prompting her to take photography classes over the next ten years. “I could walk down the hill to the arts center, and that’s how I learned everything I know,” Barney explains. “There were famous photographers teaching classes and two regular teachers. Not only did I find great friends and ski my brains out, but I would never have become a photographer otherwise.” 

This article appears in the Winter 2023-2024 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.