Born in 1982 in Germany, Barbara Diener received her Bachelor of Fine Art in photography from the California College of the Arts and Masters in Fine Art in Photography from Columbia College Chicago.

Her work has been exhibited at Alibi Fine Art, Chicago, IL, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL, Hyde Park Art Center, Hyde Park, IL, David Weinberg Gallery, Chicago, IL, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, NM, Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA, Invisible Dog Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, Lilllstreet Art Center, Chicago, IL, Riverside Art Center, Chicago, IL. Pingyao Photo Festival, China, The Arcade, Chicago, IL, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, Philadelphia, PA, Darkroom Gallery, Essex Junction, VT and Project Basho, Philadelphia, PA among others. Diener’s photographs are part of several private and institutional collections including the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

In 2013 Diener was selected to participate in two highly ambitious and competitive artist residency programs, the Fields Project in Oregon, IL and ACRE in Steuben, WI, and she was HATCH Projects 2015-2016 resident through the Chicago Artist Coaltition.

Diener is a winner of Flash Forward 2013, the recipient of a Follett Fellowship at Columbia College Chicago and was awarded the Albert P. Weisman Award in 2012 and 2013. In addition Diener received an Individual Artist Grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Events in 2015. She is the Collection Manager in the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and teaches photography at Oakton Community College and at the School of the Art Institute.


2013 – 2017

When and where did Phantom Power begin? 

The initial inspiration for Phantom Power came out of a conversation with Kathy, a frequent subject and muse of mine. We were sitting in her kitchen and she told me about her repeated paranormal encounters. I have had a persistent interest in religion, so it seemed a natural progression to turn my camera towards people that believe in a parallel after life. My dad died 10 years ago and there certainly is a small part of me that wants to believe in the ability to communicate with the dead. I even went to see a medium who claimed to be speaking with my father but I just could not believe it. Unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure to experience any unexplained phenomenon, so the photographs made for Phantom Power reinterpret other people’s accounts or represent my imagination of capturing the invisible.

Where do you see this body of work going? 

I have always had a hard time knowing exactly when a project is complete. The transition from my previous body of work Sehnsucht to Phantom Power happened very naturally and that is my preferred way of working. I am currently working on a book of Phantom Power with Daylight Books. It will come out next June and the process of editing, sequencing and designing has been very exciting. I have exhibited Phantom Power and hope to do so further but ultimately I am in love with bookmaking and it is such an excellent way to disseminate the work to a broader audience. Working on the book has forced me to come to a point of closure with Phantom Power but there are aspects of my research that I don’t think I fully explored, so it seems that this project will again transition into the next.

I just launched an Indiegogo campaign to help recuperate some of the book production costs. It's a great way to pre-order the book, as well. You can check it out here.

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

I am lucky enough to work with and around photographs on a daily basis, which is very inspiring. I am the Collection Manager in the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, so I have incredible resources at my disposal and get to work with three amazing curators, not to mention the artists and artworks that come through. In addition, I also teach, which is both inspirational and educational. The two jobs combined constantly keep me thinking, researching and making my own work. About a month ago I took up knitting, which has been weirdly rewarding and fulfills a creative need while also helping with stress.  

What’s next for you?

Traveling is certainly important to me and I want to do as much of it as I can, but having some financial stability has also been crucial to me. I think I might have found the perfect balance for myself. I love teaching but I also love working with such an incredible collection as the Art Institute’s and I consider myself very honored to get to do both.