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Barbara Diener

Born 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 the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, MA, Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle, WA, 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, 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.


Diener has participated in several highly ambitious and competitive artist residency programs, the Fields Project in Oregon, IL, ACRE in Steuben, WI, and HATCH Projects through the Chicago Artist Coalition. She 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. Additionally, Diener received an Individual Artist Grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Events in 2015, 2018, and 2020. In June 2018 Daylight Books published Diener’s first book Phantom Power.


Barbara Diener is the Collection Manager in the Department of Photography and Media at the Art Institute of Chicago and teaches photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Artist Statement

The Rocket's Red Glare
The Rocket's Red Glare uses the life of instrumental German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, as a metaphor for the selective way history is told. This series challenges the often dual retelling of significant 20th century events, starting in Nazi-era Germany and culminating in the moon landing. My interest in interpreting this chain of events comes from my own reckoning with history and my complicated German heritage surrounding World War II.


I was born and raised in Germany to an American mother and German father. The latter, who passed away in 2007, was a young boy during World War II. It was hard for him to talk about the war and therefore unclear to me where my family fit into that historical moment. As far as I know my grandfather and uncle did not join the Nazi Party but both fought in the war on the German side. My uncle was 18 when he was wounded at the end of the war and died of his injuries.


My complex feelings about my heritage are embodied in von Braun’s life. A Nazi turned NASA scientist, von Braun’s life was filled with as much contradiction as his groundbreaking rockets were, which were used as missiles and spacecraft alike. Much of his Nazi past was classified for decades to celebrate his contribution to the U.S. space race.


Rather than presenting a complete view of this history, I leave intentional holes in the narrative. These gaps serve as questions, looking at how stories pass through generations and how facts are distorted, embellished or undermined.

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Release Date: June 10, 2022

In photographs created in 2021, I superimposed archival images found in the Wernher von Braun Archive in Huntsville, AL with my own photographs taken on the coast of Lake Michigan. Due to Covid-19, I was unable to travel to Peenemünde, Germany, the site where von Braun developed the V2 rocket (Vengeance Weapon 2), to complete this series. Instead, I made landscapes in Chicago that reference images of Peenemünde that I have seen. The first year refers to the date in which the historical photo was made and the second refers to the year I took my image and created the composite.

Fallen Missile, Peenemünde, Germany, 1940/2021

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Release Date: December 2, 2022

In “Suicide Squad,” Arroyo Seco, Pasadena, CA, 1936/2019 I have composited a photo of the “Suicide Squad” into an environmental portrait/landscape that I took in 2019 in the same location. The original photograph was taken during the first rocket fuel test in 1936 in the Arroyo Seco. The first year refers to the date in which the historical photo was made and the second refers to the year I took my image and created the composite.

Suicide Squad,” Arroyo Seco, Pasadena, CA, 1936/2019