Figure transformation has been a predominant theme in my work. Over the past thirty years I have been operating as a painter but employing traditional photographic tools.  

I rework this canvas with a toolkit that includes clouds, reflections, plastic sheeting, cloth-encased figures as well as aperture, shutter speed and artificial lighting. I will photograph from above in order to flatten the perspective. It is important to me to capture these photographic constructions completely in-camera creating everything on site rather than later with Photoshop as much as possible.

Over the past decade, my practice has explored the medium of water, which has become a natural lens that refocuses and reinterprets my painterly aesthetic. Water allows me to move the human figure in unconventional ways. Photography affords me the ability to play with notions of time and place. By seeing through water, rather than through air, I am able to re-envision the nature of our relationship to our surroundings. Working in the water also provides an ideal space to continue to explore figurative. It also allows me to refocus attention on this natural resource that we have in abundance and is often taken for granted.

Challenging the perception of the figure in space is another strong thematic element in my work. Of late I find myself slowly progressing toward the almost total dissolution of the figure creating a dramatic tension between the figure and form, testing the nature of photography and its impact on our experience of reality.

— Barbara Cole


Like Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses, who states: “I am a part of all that I have met”, so too is photographer Barbara Cole—and she has taken her camera with her. As well, the remarkable assurance and authority of her work has been generated from the extraordinary trajectory of her career in image making.

Everything began early and abruptly for Cole. And everything that happened to her contributed a good deal to the artist she was to become. She was modeling, for example, when she was still a teenager. And although she dropped out of high school in grade twelve, she found herself, virtually overnight, transported from a temporary job as a secretary to—remarkably—the position of fashion editor for the Toronto Sun. This was in 1972. The position became an intense, hectic, protracted, hands-on photography course for a woman who, at this time, was still only nineteen years old.

“I came to be an artist simply by taking pictures”, Cole told me recently, and indeed what better way is there? Newspaper staff photographers apparently dislike doing fashion shoots, Cole assured me (it seems you couldn’t win awards that way), and so, in the Toronto Sun’s then non-unionized shop, Cole undertook them herself, learning as she went. The staff photographers seemed happy enough to teach her darkroom techniques, and within a couple of years she was creating fashion layouts for the paper, writing articles, and, more importantly, travelling the globe, taking runway photos in Paris, New York and everywhere else the momentary urgencies of fashion beckoned.

Cole was with the Toronto Sun for a decade. Then, during a sabbatical from the paper, in 1985, she began to put together her very first photographic exhibition for Toronto’s Jane Corkin Gallery. And the rest, as they say, is history.

— Excerpt Photo Life Magazine, Photo-Immersion: The Art of Barbara Cole by Art Critic Gary Michael Dault May 2004.

Barbara Cole's artwork is extensively collected by both public and private institutions, and has been exhibited worldwide in such venues as the Canadian embassies in Washington, D.C. and Tokyo, Japan.  Throughout her career, Cole has worked internationally on commercial projects and large-scale art commissions including installations for the Breast Cancer Centre in Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital and for Trump Hollywood, Florida.  She has won prestigious awards such as the Grand Prize at the Festival International de la Photographie de Mode in Cannes, and third prize at the International Photography Awards in New York.  Barbara Cole lives and works in Toronto, Canada.