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Barbara Tyroler

Barbara Tyroler has been photographing bodies in water with infrared black-and-white film since the early ’80s. She continued these studies using underwater housings for her cameras, holding her breath, and locking her toes around the sides of the pool to keep her submerged. She later incorporated reflective acrylic mirrors to enable her to stay upright while glancing under the surface through the mirrors.

When her father was ill and approaching eighty, they collaborated on a series of portrait-making sessions. She encouraged him to explore art during his aquatic rehabilitation. Together they made portraits of each other underwater, using the computer to share images and poetic thoughts about health, the fragile body, and the soothing aspects of water. They explored issues relating to truth-telling and the camera’s capacity for illusion, power, and gift-giving. The resulting exhibition of the portraits along with a scholarly thesis documenting the process, meaning, and the discipline of digital art earned her a master’s degree at the age of fifty.

She continued making pool portraits, photographing intergenerational couples including grandparents and babies, women experiencing their first pregnancies, married couples and life partners, and at times strangers who commissioned her to do their portraits in the water. In her role as an art educator, she brought the pool portrait process to her university classroom. She conducted workshops and portrait-making experiences in community pools, nursing homes, and special education programs for children.

Using water as her environmental backdrop, Tyroler works with students and colleagues, family and friends, to collaboratively explore gesture and the human figure, light, pattern, and reflective design. Beneath the surface, she considers deeper issues: vulnerability, control, and how one navigates the transitions of aging and relationships.

Drawing on her dual graduate degrees in digital art and education, Tyroler developed the University of Maryland’s first digital photography curriculum. Since returning to North Carolina, she has offered independent critique and seminars for photographers, advanced workshops at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and intensive photographic courses at Western Carolina University’s Cullowhee Mountain Arts program.

Tyroler has received more than thirty grants to promote multicultural and inclusive art experiences. Her work is shared and exhibited in galleries, universities, private collections, and nontraditional public art spaces such as hospitals, schools, health-care offices, meditation centers, and swimming pools. She is currently photographing North Carolina creative writers and the spaces they inhabit. In these portraits Tyroler is extending the intergenerational work of the pool portraiture and enhancing the symbolic and physical spaces of these writers and their ancestors.

Tyroler’s work can be viewed at her website and on social media:
Instagram      @btyroler

Ten Things I Can’t Do Without

  1. Family, of course—my husband—who is smart and wise, loving and generous with his love, and a left-brained rock with creative tendencies that are expressed though his ability to draw recognizable objects with our grandchildren and to play rock and roll on his bass, throughout his academic career and into retirement
  2. Family, of course, including our feisty, healthy, independent, and talented daughter, who may be the one to figure out what balancing work and life is all about, wife to an accomplished yet not-too-driven husband, and coparent to two exuberant young boys who do not stop until they are fully asleep
  3. Opportunities for teaching and learning; sharing and making a contribution through my photography
  4. An enriching community including my brothers, niece, and nephew, and extended family and friends, who are always there to support and inspire
  5. Coffee that ignites the inspirational muse (sometimes with dark chocolate or anything with salt)
  6. My cameras, computers, printers, and all things technology—except for paper, which I also love—the artistic and creative tools that enable the sparks to speak
  7. Music that motivates me to jump and dance in the racquetball courts when no one is looking
  8. Warmth—warm light and lots of it, warm water, warm weather, warm sweaters, especially warm socks
  9. Sunday New York Times (on paper)
  10. Hair defrizzer