Barry Holniker used photography to capture 'essence of a moment'

September 10, 1990|By Carl Schoettler

Elizabeth Nead thought it slightly odd when Barry Holniker signed up for her senior graphic design class at the Maryland Institute a little more than 10 years ago. She didn't get many photography majors. But Mr. Holniker turned out to be the best student she ever had.

She asked her students to bring in a portfolio of their work. Mr. Holniker brought in his photographs: "I realized right away he was incredibly talented."

They became friends and colleagues.

"And from then on I watched him grow," Ms. Nead said, "which he did by leaps and bounds."

Barry Holniker had become a widely respected photographer, building a national reputation when he died Thursday afternoon at the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore. He had been severely injured in an auto accident at Charles and 25th streets two days earlier. He was 34.

Services were held yesterday at the Levinson funeral establishment. Hundreds of his friends from across a wide spectrum of Baltimore's urban life came to mourn his death and celebrate his life and work.

"Barry was a loyal and loving friend," said Jennifer Bishop, also a photographer and a longtime friend. "He taught me a lot about seeing and feeling and how they go together.

"And there was a thing he repeated over the years," she said. "It began when I asked him how to take better pictures.

"When I thought things were going badly, or when I was in trouble, or when I was hurting over something in life, he repeated over and over: 'Turn off the florescents and open up the blinds.'"

In an interview, Eric Garland, another old friend and editor of Warfield's magazine, where Mr. Holniker was principal photographer, said: "Barry had a very unusual, inventive way of looking at the world, which showed up in his photographs. At its core was the ability to capture the essence of a moment or a person."

Ms. Nead used virtually the same words in describing Mr. Holniker's personality and art.

"Barry had really strong instincts about people, his work and the essence of any situation," she said.

"He trusted his intuition. He often butted heads with his clients. -- He felt he knew what was right for the situation, and he was right, too. He had a really strong natural instinct for people and his art.

"He always seemed to sense out what was truthful, or the essence, of any situation. Then he captured it in the split-second that photography is," Ms. Nead said. "Which is what made him such an artist.

L "It's an incredible loss of an incredible person," she said.

Mr. Holniker graduated from the Maryland Institute in 1980 with a bachelor of arts degree in photography. He already had been committed to photography when he graduated from Towson High School. He attended Essex Community College, went to the Pratt Institute in New York for a year, then came back to the Maryland Institute for his degree.

He already was working as a free-lance photographer before his graduation, establishing his reputation with true, clear-eyed, unexpected and irreverent photographs of Baltimore and Baltimoreans for the City Paper, whose style he helped to define.

Mr. Holniker went on to do editorial, corporate and institutional work with top agencies in Baltimore and New York. His photographs appeared in Warfield's, the Washington Post Magazine and Regardie's. He also did work for the New York magazines Dossier, Elle, M., and Savvy.

His work had been exhibited in the Baltimore Museum of Art's Maryland Biennial in 1983, and in other group shows. He won photography awards from the Maryland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Area Business Publications and Photo Design magazine.

"He had an eye for the absurd or the strangeness of humanity that was great," Mr. Garland said. "He even did that in the corporate world where everything is buttoned down and by the book.

"Something would always be going on in his pictures that was definitely real or surprising, as opposed to the posed or familiar or expected. He didn't want any of that in his work."

Mr. Holniker was a peripatetic night person who made the Club Charles, the North Charles Street lounge, his nocturnal headquarters. But he could just as easily turn up in the most out-of-the-way neighborhood bar, or at somebody's downtown studio, and he was always ready to move on to the next place.

"He was in a way a throwback to when there were characters in town," Mr. Garland said, "like a character in a Runyon or Benchley story."

He'd turn up in a black leather jacket, with tousled brown hair and a couple days' growth of beard to shoot a CEO in his executive suite.

"Barry didn't fear anybody," Mr. Garland said. "He immediately put people at ease, which is why he got such great photographs . . .

"He would look for what made that person stand out, whether a factory worker in Gdansk or Edward Bennett Williams."

Mr. Holniker is survived by his mother, Dorothy Holniker oBaltimore; his father, Gilbert Holniker of Middletown; two sisters, Linda Josephson of Baltimore, and Ellen Trager of Gaithersburg; and a brother, Daniel Holniker of Baltimore.

The family requested that memorial donations be made to the Barry Holniker Scholarship Fund, at the Maryland Institute, 1300 W. Mount Royal Ave., Baltimore 21217.

-- Carl Schoettler

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