Tina Barney is a kind of Nan Goldin for the Fisher’s Island set, documenting the lives of the genetic originals for Ralph Lauren’s simulacral fantasies. Whereas Lauren hawks an unreal, manicured WASP utopia, Barney’s photographs deliver the prosaic banalities of the real thing. Her work delineates a style of life that belies the implicit anyone-can-have-this commercial come-on of Polo advertising. Yet, like Lauren, Barney is sticking up for the finer things in life. As she put it in a recent interview, “I’m documenting . . . a way of life that I don’t think might ever happen again in America, because . . . the time that it takes to live with quality—in a style of life that has quality—is disappearing.”

I suspect that when Barney talks about quality, she means something very different from Ralph Lauren on behalf of his sheets. Quality for Barney is more than the sum of one’s accoutrements;

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