Photographer Barbara Parmet’s work has been shown in solo exhibitions in the United States and internationally at the Fotografia Alterna in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico and at the Galerie Panique in Paris, France. Her photographs are in the permanent collections of the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, as well as numerous private collections. She is represented by Crista Dix of wall space gallery (Seattle and Santa Barbara).
Parmet’s residence, located in what is known as the Bungalow District of Santa Barbara, California, houses her studio as well. The original garage was remodeled and enlarged into two stories. On the first floor, there’s a shooting space and a traditional wet darkroom; on the second floor, an aerie overlooks the neighborhood and serves as a sanctuary for writing and contemplation.
Parmet was born in 1953 in Kansas City, Missouri. Her appetite for travel was whetted at an early age with free air travel privileges from TWA, where her father worked as an engineer. By age 10, she had traveled to France, England, Portugal and Israel. While still in college, and with free air travel until she was 26, she went to Hong Kong, Thailand and Laos. World travel continues to be an important component of Parmet’s life; often accompanied by her husband, she has made trips to Mexico, Central and South America, Japan, Indonesia, Cambodia, Burma, Russia, Australia and Antarctica.
As a high school graduation present, Parmet received a 35mm Nikon F2 from her father. At Indiana University in Bloomington she majored in political science and journalism. But her main reason for choosing journalism was to have access to the darkroom, where she would process film and make prints almost every night. As an undergraduate, Parmet became an activist, beginning with the environmental organization INPIRG. She was politicized by the Vietnam War, the Watergate Hearings, and Roe vs. Wade. She and her future husband, Bill Edelstein, walked precincts in Chicago for George McGovern’s 1972 Presidential campaign.
Between 1971 and 1981, Parmet pursued a career as a photojournalist. After her college graduation in 1973, she worked as a freelance photographer for UPI (United Press International) and AP (Associated Press) in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1975, she enrolled in a two-year graduate photojournalism program at the University of Missouri. Back then, students wrote stories and headlines, learned layout and design (pasting up publications by hand using hot wax) and broadcasted sports on the radio in addition to their photography assignments. Parmet did stories on women athletes and once photographed Nina Simone performing at a conference on women jazz singers and musicians.
During summers while in graduate school, she interned as a newspaper photographer at the Little Rock Democrat and the Baltimore Sun. The Sun had 14 staff photographers, and Parmet was the only woman. The photographers would harass her by mixing black-and-white negatives of pornographic images in with negatives of her own, in the drawer where she stored them. Working for the Sun did not afford her much control of the use of her images; when she was offered a full-time position as a staff photographer, she declined.
In 1978, Parmet travelled by train from Nogales, Arizona to Guaymas, Mexico with a friend. As serendipity would have it, on New Year’s Eve in Guaymas, she met two young men who sold advertising for the Santa Barbara News and Review. Deciding that she wanted to be the photo editor for that paper, she applied and flew out for an interview. She arrived from Los Angeles on a Greyhound bus, dragged her suitcase 11 blocks to the newspaper’s office and was hired as production manager.
After three years, Parmet left the News and Review and began a mentorship with Reg van Cuylenburg, a photographer and painter from Sri Lanka who lived in Santa Barbara. Parmet studied art and design with him two to three days a week for several years. During this period she became familiar with the color theory of Josef Albers. She began painting and researched artists such as Matisse and Delacroix. She also worked with medium and comlarge format cameras, including an old 2 1/4 twin lens reflex camera and a 4×5 Linhof view camera. After this period of study, Parmet realized that she was an artist, and that her decision to become a photojournalist had been an attempt at practicality.
Read More in Photographer’s Forum :: Fall 2016 / Vol. 38 / No. 4