Barry Stone, Lost Pines

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2022 (here). Softcover (21.6 x 27.9 cm), 80 pages, with 37 color photographs and 8 color inserts. Includes a booklet insert (17 x 12.7 cm), 12 pages, and an essay by the artist. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Barry Stone lives and works in Austin, Texas, where he also teaches at the School of Art and Design at Texas State University. His work often explores personal narratives, looking at how photographic images of family and landscape inform, distort, and condition our perception of the world. Stone is also a thoughtful book maker who thinks creatively about what a photobook can be, and constantly experiments with the book form, finding exciting ways to craft a story. His first book In A Nimble Sea (reviewed here) used digital glitching, raw code symbols, and layering to construct its visual narrative. Stone’s other project Drift (reviewed here) was presented as an innovative mail art photobook, intermingling family, landscape, and chance, as he tracked the circumstances of a family car accident and seaside vacation.

Stone’s most recent book Lost Pines follows a family tragedy. In 2002, the photographer’s grandfather died when his trailer was engulfed in a tragic fire. While cleaning the trailer, Stone found a small group of Polaroids his grandparents had taken on their property. In the past decade, Stone had also photographed another tragedy and the aftermath of another fire, the 2011 Bastrop County Complex Fire, the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. The book brings together a multi-layered narrative with images taken decades apart: the photographs from his grandparents family archive, the trailer destroyed in the fire, and the aftermath of the 2011 fire. The poetic title of the book refers to the “Lost Pines”, a unique pine-oak forest just east of Austin. The area is called the “Lost Pines” as it is cut off from similar stands of pines that populate East Texas. Stone grew up not far from there, and his grandparents’ home was also close by.

Lost Pines is a small intimate book, and stands out as a beautifully crafted object. The book has a soft cover with a photograph of pine trees in pink hue, and its overlapping flaps protect the book. The process of opening the gatefolds creates the feeling of dealing with something intimate and profound. Inside, the narrative consists of black and white photographs, and eight neatly folded full color posters placed between the pages. These posters reproduce the Polaroids that Stone’s grandfather took, re-photographed with the forest as a backdrop. A number on each poster corresponds to a number on a page, an elegant design element. The visible white stitches also add to the physicality of the book.

Throughout the book there are shots of pine trees, burnt stumps surrounded by blooming flowers, clouds, bare branches – they depict the ecological disaster and also nature’s power to recover. Full bleed photographs are mixed with vertical shots that appear with white space, and the sequencing creates a deliberate dynamism, slowing down in some parts and moving faster in others. Stone also alters the image file code of a number of photographs, adding extra movements that contribute to the overall visual energy. 

The black and white photograph of a cloud, which takes up nearly the entire frame, opens the book. It is followed by a photo of a stack of five hanging folders boxes shot in the forest. Another vertical photo captures bare trunks of pine trees rising against the sky, and then there is a full bleed photo of pine trees, slightly altered digitally, creating a wave in their movement. Here we also find the first poster. Fingers hold a Polaroid taken by Stone’s grandfather showing green trees on a sunny day, and it has been placed against a burnt tree trunk, also on a sunny day. As the narrative unfolds, a personal story of loss is intermingled with that of an ecological tragedy.

One of the Polaroids, taken by the grandmother, captures Stone’s grandfather during a happy moment, relaxing on a chair with the cat on his lap; Stone has re-photographed the image against the surface of a burnt tree. A small booklet tucked in the center includes images of Stone’s grandfather’s home after the fire. These images expand the atmosphere of the tragedy: dark heavy clouds resembling smoke, cabinets with melted glass, black burned walls covered with empty frames, shirts neatly organized on hangers in the closet, and a living room space filled with debris. 

All of the elements of the book complement each other, creating a delicately interwoven narrative of loss, memory, and recovery. Lost Pines is beautifully produced, thoughtful, and elegant throughout. In it, Stone offers a creative approach to re-imagining personal stories and archival materials, and connecting them to a wider narrative. His inspired and innovative use of the book format, with its attention to both content and form, makes this narrative even more engaging and appealing. 

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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