We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.





Thomas Barrow

United States of America

1938 –

No image
  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    verifax matrix print
    35.3 x 21.5 cm image
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Gift of Geoffrey Batchen 2016
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Thomas Barrow
    Artist information
    Thomas Barrow

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Thomas Barrow dismantles and re-works conventional photographic processes to assert and exaggerate the material status of the photographic object. Barrow studied at the Art Institute of Design in Chicago and in part inherited the innovative agenda and interrogative spirit of the art school’s founder László Moholy-Nagy. By physically modifying or manipulating his prints – most notably by carving an x into a photographic negative before printing it in his series Cancellations – or integrating photographs into mixed media assemblages, Barrow draws attention to the photographic object. As he asserted in 1984, he was compelled by a desire to "move from the transparent, window-on-the-world form that has been photography's primary reason for being since its invention, to making it a physical object, an object to be looked at for its own presence and not for a surrogate experience."

    Ever curious about the expressive potential of new imaging technologies, Barrow began to work with a verifax copier in the 1970s – a photocopy machine that transfers an inverse version of the original document onto a paper matrix before duplicating it on a new sheet. This paper matrix operates like a film negative and reverses both the composition and the distribution of light and dark. Barrow used this proto-photographic machine to produce densely layered montages composed of image fragments derived from found sources. Here, metaphors are intertwined and meaning is generated accumulatively. Barrow’s complex entanglements of splintered images can often be read as a commentary on consumerism and excess within the cultural landscape of late 20th century America. The clustered image fragments in this work point to an unknown and alien topography, seemingly derived from a geological sourcebook. The impenetrability of this partial and disjointed landscape amassed out of cryptic images of rocks and craters is accentuated by the fact that this print is a verifax matrix. What Barrow presents to us is the inverse image produced by the machine during the copying process – the proto-photographic negative – not a positive, identical duplicate of the original imagery. Tones have been reversed and the letters of the text that punctuates the composition appear back to front. A matrix print is an image plucked from the printing process – a photographic document caught mid-transcription. By arresting and intercepting the printing process, Barrow preserves the fluid potentiality of the composition. In the matrix – at least in principle – form is somewhat unfixed and open to change. Much like the symbolic logic that structures this enigmatic cluster of found images.