Barry Stone, Daily, In A Nimble Sea

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2017 by Silas Finch (here). Hardcover (with tipped-in photograph), 96 pages, with 37 color photographs. Includes an essay by the artist. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Daily, In A Nimble Sea is also available in a special edition (here). This version (in an edition of 50 copies) comes with a signed book and includes one of two double-sided prints on matte paper (8.5×11 inches).

Comments/Context: The mysterious and poetic title of Barry Stone’s photobook Daily, In A Nimble Sea is an anagram of “Bailey Island, Maine.” This small island in Casco Bay is the place Stone goes every year with his family (his wife Ann and their two young daughters), and where the photographs included were taken over a period of seven years. He describes the area as “a tiny stretch of coastline … incessantly transformed by the interactions of fog, sun, and tides.”

Rearranging a set of letters to create a new title is an apt simile for the way Stone treats his photographs. All of the photographs are shot digitally; he then manipulates the underlying code of the image files to deliberately create glitches and anomalies in the pictures, ultimately producing new versions of those images. What others might see as error, Stone interprets as the open space for possibilities. Digital noise and intentional distortions lead to new interpretations and variations of the original images.

Bailey Island is captured as a quiet deserted place, mysterious and idyllic, enveloped in a light fog. As we flip through the book, photographs of the water surface, the clouds, random debris, the waves, the rocks, and the moon pass by, as if we are walking with the artist along the island coastline. The muted washed out palette reinforces this understated mood, and as Stone quietly interleaves unaltered and manipulated images, we don’t immediately recognize the changes taking place. 

Many of the images have been altered to appear almost like layered collages. Images of the water surface look like they are patched and stitched from several pieces, and we can see transitions of colors and the hard edged borders of each component part. In other pictures, the sky incorporates colorful lines of subtly glitched pixels, Stone’s digital traces feeling settled and controlled. As the span of manipulations ranges from very minimal to highly obvious, it makes us start to look more closely, wondering if the dots in the sky are birds or digital cracks.

Stone takes his experiments a conceptual step further by showing us the raw text code that makes up a digital photograph, offering it as its own type of image, formed by symbols. In several cases, the information extracted from the photo file is placed alongside the original picture, offering a before and after visual comparison. The continuous rows of commas, dots, letters and other characters make visible the part of an image that usually remains unseen, encouraging us to see shared patterns between the two modes of communication. The pairing is exciting and unexpected, like interpreting of photograph on two different planes.

The photographs towards the end of the book were shot in the evening, and while the colors of water and sky are almost the same, moonlight reflections in the water add more information to the photographs. The digital code representing the images as symbols similarly gets more intense and crowded.

As a photobook, Daily, In A Nimble Sea has an elegant design and bears evidence of sophisticated production decisions. It has a greyish cloth cover with a tipped-in image of the sea surface blending in with the sky. The photograph is slightly altered and looks as if two images overlap, and yet the shift seems rather gentle, setting the tranquil mood of the book while also hinting at Stone’s use of the glitching technique.

The last photograph in the book is a shot of a Casco Bay area map pinned to the wall, as if Stone was looking back at the years spent on the island. For him, this book “represents a fantasy of fatherhood, endless horizons, and malleable realities”. While his seascapes aren’t necessarily original in the history of photography, his approach to unpacking and reassembling them is, and by mixing original and altered images with the code of their digital files, he has forced us to question how we perceive and think about photography. Like the rolling waves moving in and out, his pictures oscillate between imagery and symbols, never quite standing still. 

Collector’s POV: Barry Stone is represented by Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery in New York (here). His work has not yet found its way to the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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