Miranda Barnes: The Unselfie
There is a gentle sincerity to Miranda Barnes’ photographs. People and places she captures inhabit their own unique story, one she always welcomes and dignifies within the frame. “I find that because of how I look and how tiny I am, that sometimes people don't expect me to be a photographer,” she considers, “and I just love sort of playing with that and getting shots that they probably wouldn't let someone else take.” That warm, empathetic perspective is accompanied by a distinct timelessness, one rooted in the nostalgia of the film format she often uses but is also drawn from strong influences like Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, Ming Smith, and Latoya Ruby Frazier. Barnes offers a fresh viewpoint, one born from a long-time interest in social justice instilled by her mother, encouraged by college professors and invigorated by witnessing and participating in the Black Lives Matter protests following the 2014 police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. “Photography allowed me the opportunity to express my emotions during 2014 in a way that I had not done so before,” she explains. “I just remember being so angry about all of it, and sad, mostly. The only way for me to vent was to take photos... that was my first moment where I just wanted to document the people that were the same angry as me. Up until then, I had only been dabbling in photography.”
While 2014 marked a new relationship with photography, Miranda has always had an affinity for pictures and images. She recalls being mesmerized by stills from classic films, relishing time she could spend alone watching Turner Classic Movies. “I was always thinking about [the images] but didn't think that I could actually go that route.” In high school, she carried around disposable cameras, taking pictures and uploading them to a Tumblr page to preserve and share the memories. “I wanted to go to art school,” she explains, “but, frankly, I couldn’t afford it.” Reassuring herself that she would continue to photograph, Barnes enrolled in community college before transferring to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where pursuit of other interests broadened her perspective and ultimately gave new strength to her photography.
“I was always documenting but nothing really came about until 2015 after taking a philosophy class. I was sitting next to this girl, and in walks her sister; and I was shocked that they were twins.” Miranda’s grandmother was a twin, so she began working on a serious project on black female twins. “I didn’t really know what I was doing with it, but I knew I was working towards a more cohesive body of work versus just the snapshots I had been taking before.”
Miranda’s twins project, Doubles, ended up being picked up by a succession of major publications and led to opportunities shooting for The New York Times, Vogue, and Vice. “I feel like I have just hit the tip of the iceberg for my work and it's exhilarating to know I have so much more to give,” says Barnes. “It's become my life, in a way. I never called myself a photographer. I wouldn't say it's given me a sense of purpose, because I think I had other interests, but I would say that it has given me something that I have never felt more sure about.” —Alex Nicholson
"When I'm photographing on the streets, it's random people. They trust me enough to just let me take their photo. I find that that's incredibly fascinating, and it's for two reasons; this might be an open person and they are just not concerned, but also, I've found, especially from photographing marginalized communities, that they've never really had a good photo taken of them." —Miranda Barnes
I sometimes find that people are shocked when I wanna take photos of them. I have this one photo that I took of a guy in Memphis, I'll never forget him just facing me and saying, “You wanna take a photo of me?” He just got so excited. I feel like, in that moment, it's less about the photo and more about the interaction. You're giving someone a platform, you're giving them a sense of nobility that they deserve and empathy that they've longed for but have never had the chance to have.
Photography has changed me, and I think it's also given me a way of shedding light on diversity, which is needed. I say this all the time; sometimes I'm not even taking the pictures for myself, I'm just taking pictures because I've had all these opportunities and I'm just trying to open the door for other people to get through. I think that that's important.