Holniker's photographs express humanity


October 21, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

When an automobile accident killed Barry Holniker at the age of 34 in 1990 he had already been a professional photographer for 12 years and was enjoying a successful career.

Just how successful can be seen in "Barry Holniker (1955-1990): A Retrospective" at the BAUhouse. Beginning with assignments for the City Paper in 1978 while he was still at the Maryland Institute, College of Art (he graduated in 1980), he was soon doing brochures for such clients as Wesleyan University, Mercantile Bank, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He also went on to portraiture and fashion photography, working for Warfield's, Regardie's, Dossier and other magazines.

His subjects ranged from everyday events to celebrities and bigwigs, from a couple of women sitting under hair dryers in "Beauty Salon, Highlandtown" (1988) to "Martin Scorsese" (1990), "Blaze Starr" (1989), "Kurt Schmoke" (1987), "John Davidson" (1982) and "Edith Massey" (1983).

This large show leaves the impression that, while he always did a good job, his work for magazines could be somewhat formulaic. There are so many dramatically lighted, tight shots of faces looking thoughtful that they become a bit of a cliche.

The best stuff here comes from the early years and the very end of his career, in comparatively informal black and white photographs. The two old guys meeting in front of the Declaration of Independence in "Stonewall Democratic Club" (1981), a smiling "Balls Maggio" (1981) standing in a run-down doorway under a sign that says "Note: Bell Not In Service Best To Phone," the group of kids lined up at "Rocky Point, Essex" (1979) -- these have life, personality, humor.

Not long before he died he went to Eastern Europe on assignment from Warfield's "helping to chronicle an expedition by a group of Maryland officials and business leaders" says a text. If that leads anyone to expect the usual shots of suited businessmen shaking hands with government leaders in official surroundings, these photographs are anything but.

Maybe Holniker took official photographs, but the ones we see here record ordinary people in "Moscow," in "Hungary," and in "Gdansk Shipyard, Poland." Despite the considerable compositional interest of some of them, they don't look stagy. They have the immediacy of moments captured, and there is a lot of humanity on display in the people shown.

One senses that Holniker, when he took these photographs, was doing what he liked to do best. In any case, it was what he did best.

The exhibit continues through Nov. 20 at the BAUhouse, an independent multipurpose arts center at 1713 N. Charles St. Call 659-5520.

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