We cross paths with many people in our working lives, sometimes those relationships and experiences stay with you forever. I first met Ed Barber in 1997, continuing the commissioning of a series of installation photography at the Crafts Council Gallery. There was I in my twenties, pretty green and a little over confident, art directing a photographer whose experience and portfolio left me standing. However, Ed liked to talk, he liked to talk you through the shots, through the work, and about the people who made the work, he liked the challenge of engagement and the interaction. He cared about the practice of making and the debate around it.

Indeed, our digital slide library, Photostore, was full of Ed’s images. Makers commissioned Ed to document their work, to take their portraits, and his images were used to document the Crafts Council Collection, Chelsea Craft Fair and embellish pages of Crafts Magazine. I always remember Ed talking so passionately about his relationship with Peter Dormer, the writer and critic who died in 1996. Ed took the images for the Culture of Craft, edited by Dormer and published in 1997 and was an active supporter of the Peter Dormer annual lecture series hosted at the RCA in his memory. Dormer was appreciated by makers because he understood the skills and judgement in the making process; Ed followed this tradition, he was critically engaged through his photographs, which of course were meticulously crafted objects in their own right. I remember him being quite effected by his passing.

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Ed taught me about looking, editing, selection and being confident in standing up for what you think is right. He would always consult me in the selection of shots from the contact sheet, but would steer me to pick the best image, educating my judgement. This is such a generous quality.

In 2003, we celebrated 30 years of the Crafts Council Setting Up Scheme and as part of the related exhibition and catalogue, we commissioned Ed to head off on tour around the UK to take 30 portraits of makers. The commission played to his strengths, relationships, understanding of the subject matter, and demonstrated his skill as a portrait photographer. Those documented included: Gary Breeze; John Mills; Carl Clerkin; Tom Dixon; Shin and Tomoko Azumi; Dai Rees; Jacqueline Poncelet; Janice Tchalenko; Chris Keenan; Mah Rana; Pauline Burbidge; Kei Ito; Jane Atfield; David Poston; Adam Paxon; Neil Brownsword; and Simone ten Hompel.

He said, ‘I wanted to avoid craftsperson/maker at work reportage style imagery or formal highly staged and lit studio shoots. I opted for a simple direct approach to give this body of work an integrity and visual cohesion. I chose ambient lighting, the same wide-angle lens throughout. The emphasis was on the individual, within their domestic landscape or working environment.

I travelled across England, Scotland and Wales over a period of three months in early 2003 to produce the largest and most wide-ranging documentary of British makers ever commissioned. 30/30 Vision deliberately reveals 30 different ways of working and making – ranging across urban, rural and suburban contexts and including people with diverse backgrounds and skills.’

The striking thing was, that as a freelance photographer, Ed was an extraordinary self-starter and was always proactively developing his own projects and self-publishing, with the establishment of Concrete Editions. My memory at this time was of his dedication to his 15-18: Teenagers In Their Rooms series and the epic In the City, which was the result of being influenced by his home location within the Barbican Estate, published as a limited edition book (Concrete Editions 2000), followed by a solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2001.

Resolve: An Intimate Survey of Work (Concrete Editions 2013), a project initiated with Danielle Inga, continued the appreciation of those who run small businesses, work freelance or pursue self-employment.

Ed and Danielle also went on to commission makers themselves as part of their ongoing interest and support of the applied arts sector in the form of Concrete Collaborations, this included Maiko Dawson, Gary Breeze and Amanda Doughty.

Ed was an inspiration, always believing that works would be published or exhibited, even when the funding landscape looked challenging. He never failed to get a positive result.

He exhibited widely, including the Design Museum, Flowers East, ICA London, Museum of London, National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers’ Gallery, Royal Hibernian Academy Dublin, Tate Britain, V&A. Ed was also a brilliant designer, curator and teacher, and was formerly Subject Director for Fashion Photography at the London College of Fashion.

Late last year, Ed’s exhibition Peace Signs, formed part of the IWM contemporary programme in London. The exhibition was formed from a collected body of work that recorded major protests staged at key sites such as RAF/USAF Greenham Common, Westminster, Trafalgar Square and the City of London. The work is a unique social document of mass popular protest in late twentieth century Britain which has rarely been seen in public since it was first published in 1984.

The preceding exhibition at IWM was by Peter Kennard, Unofficial War Artist. This seems appropriate as Ed collaborated with Kennard in 1979 and which triggered his five-year documentary on the Peace Movement, inspired by the anti-nuclear activists in his North London neighbourhood. This culminated in the book Peace Moves: Nuclear Protest in the 1980s (Chatto & Windus 1984) and the touring exhibition Bomb Disposal: Peace Camps and Direct Action.

Ed also collaborated on Sanity, a visual exploration of the campaign for nuclear disarmament through the work of CND, Kennard, Banksy, Kai & Sunny and Griffin by Donald Christie.

This work continues to resonate, documenting those at the sharp end of the fight with such compassion; I wish we could commission Ed to document the 2017 international protests that we have seen in the last month.

Our thoughts are with Ed’s wife and collaborator Danielle Inga, and his daughters Sonya and Nina. He was a great friend and mentor and will be greatly missed.


Stewart Drew

Posted by Laura Sayers on Wednesday 1 February 2017