Martine Barrat: 1979-1993

September 10th - November 14th, 2020

Martine Barrat: 1979-1993

September 10th - November 14th, 2020

Nina Johnson is proud to present Martine Barrat 1979-1993, an exhibition of twenty iconic photographs by the French, New York-based artist opening on September 10, 2020 and on view through November 14, 2020. 

Martine Barrat is a bridge. Her life and prolific career have been about traversing borders, boundaries, and barriers. Raised in France before settling in New York City in 1968, Barrat spent much of her adult life embedding herself in Harlem and the South Bronx. As a deeply dedicated member of these communities, Barrat has passionately documented the lives of those around her, often highlighting the exquisite power and beauty of human interdependence and empathy.  

Barrat nurtured and was nurtured by the people she photographed. “The Leica is the extension of my heart,” says Barrat. We feel this heart split open in every furrowed brow, tensed knuckle and smiling eye that is made evident to us across the printed image. 

The images included in this exhibition represent decades of observing and interacting with her friends, chosen family, and broader community. The works included epitomize the time period in which they were made. In one joyous image, a group of men and boys hang out on a city sidewalk, their gestures signifying both familial comfort and confident swagger. In another tender portrait, we see a close up of a man’s face as he dances with a woman. The woman is singer Florence Smith, whose husband died suddenly while accompanying her on the piano as she was singing a love song. Two weeks later, she danced with her late husband’s best friend and bandmate, Tom Jenkins, pictured here. 

Barrat’s circle of influence has also included figures as wide ranging as Willi Smith, Yves Saint Laurent, Nicola L., Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, and Gordon Parks, amongst countless other luminaries of twentieth century culture. Parks described his experience knowing Barrat and her work: 

“She seems to be a permanent fixture within the walls of the ever-changing world of Harlem and the South Bronx. Her undying dedication to its people, their moods, and the way of life is difficult to comprehend. Without doubt she travels a hard road every day of her experience, embracing people who the world seems to have forgotten. And daily the most forlorn of them come to seek her warmth and cherish her friendship. Barrat’s photography approach is never patronizing. Her camera’s eye is constantly observing, but it is never outright intrusive. Joy and sorrow and are captured with the same sense of honesty. It is that sort of respect that brings her even closer to her subjects.”  

The honesty described by Parks epitomizes Barrat’s lifelong dedication to the medium and her communities. Further, the respect Barrat had for her subjects resonates now, more than ever, during a period of global social upheaval. Revisiting these works today reminds us that generosity and compassion are vitally important for individuals and society.  

About Martine Barrat 

Martine Barrat lives and works in New York, NY.  

Initially a dancer in Paris, she worked with Pink Floyd and Soft Machine. Her work took her to Edinburgh for the International Dance Festival, where she met La MaMa (Ellen Stewart), who went backstage to meet her. Martine was promised a ticket to New York City to dance in La MaMa’s theater. Two years later, right after the revolution in France, Martine received a ticket to New York City from La MaMa. She arrived in the city in June of 1968 and never left. 

Together with a group of jazz musicians, Martine was one of the people who collectively created the Human Arts Ensemble (a name given by Charles “Bobo” Shaw). La MaMa provided them a theater to work out of where they ran video and music workshops. They also staged various street performances. 

She then moved to the South Bronx and worked collaboratively on video projects with gangs for 6 years. In 1978, this work was shown at the Whitney Museum and was then taken to Italy by Bernardo Bertolucci, where it was shown many times on Italian prime time television. 

Following this project, Martine made ‘Woman is Sweeter’, a film about Yves Saint Laurent featuring the music of Galt MacDermot, the Grammy award-winning composer of the musical Hair. Martine published several monographs including Do Or Die (1993), a collection of photographs that capture boxers across Harlem, the South Bronx, and Brooklyn. She also photographed celebrities like James Baldwin, Bob Marley, Martin Scorsese, Ornette Coleman, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, Gordon Parks, V.S. Naipaul, Jean-Paul Sartre, Yasushi Inoue and Paul Auster.  

Martine is currently working on films related to dance as a form of public art. In 2018, she shot a film about New York City’s subway dancers called Getting Lite which was projected at the Hip Hop Museum in Paris in 2019 and also shown at the Urban Films Festival. More recently, she made the film True Warriors about three street dancers in Paris with a unique approach to the art form. 

She has exhibited at Nina Johnson Gallery in Miami, FL, as well as La Goutte d’Or Cultural Centre, Paris, France; Musée Kampa, Prague, Czech Republic; Museum of the City of New York, NY; among others. Her photographs and videos are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Museum of the City of New York, NY; the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, NY; the Brooklyn Museum, NY; the Lincoln Center Library, NY; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, France; the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France; as well as many private collections.