New Mexico Museum of Art exhibit focuses on photography from the 60s and 70s

“Discrete Multivariate Analysis”, Thomas J. Barrow, 1981, gelatin silver photograms, with automotive lacquers and epoxy enamel, 16 × 19¾ inches. (New Mexico Art Museum/Cameron Gay)

light pointDuring the early to mid-20th century, the works of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston were considered the pinnacle of great photography.

The artists who followed them understood and appreciated these giants, but they wanted to create their own aesthetic. In doing so, they helped redefine what photography could be.

“Transgressions and Amplifications: Multimedia Photography of the 1960s and 1970s” showcases the work of these inventive pioneers who expanded the definition of photography at the Museum of Art of New Mexico in Santa Fe.

The exhibition features more than 100 photographs, many from the museum’s collection, others borrowed from the University of New Mexico Museum of Art, the Center for Creative Photography, the George Eastman Museum and other others.

At the time, black and white darkroom photography was dominant. This small group of American artists began to develop new approaches in the field, bringing photography into dialogue with other art forms. They were daredevils in the darkroom.

Some of these innovators gravitated to New Mexico.

Working in the turmoil of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, these artists were as innovative as they were rebellious.

“They came with an interest in what photography could be,” said Kate Ware, the museum’s curator of photography. “They disputed that.”

Some of them have revived old recipes for cyanotype or eraser printing. Cyanotype is a 180-year-old photographic printing process that produces a distinctive dark greenish blue. Others have dared to pierce pristine photographs with needle and thread; a few created three-dimensional prints or books. Another contingent brought commercial materials and emerging imaging techniques such as photocopying in the fine arts. Still others have incorporated pop culture references and craft traditions.

Known for her work in alternative and ancient photographic processes, Betty Hahn of New Mexico studied photography at Indiana University and later taught at the University of New Mexico.

“She had a teacher who came from the Bauhaus tradition,” Ware said. “But other teachers didn’t want to overtake her.”

Hahn studied with one of the best-known photography teachers of the time, Henry Holmes Smith, who encouraged Hahn’s work in alternative processes.

Smith was inspired by the work of the highly influential German Bauhaus. In 1937, he was invited to teach photography at the New Bauhaus founded by Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy in Chicago. The Bauhaus was a German art school open from 1919 to 1933 that combined craftsmanship and fine art.

Hahn began experimenting with the gum dichromate process, a 19th century photographic printing process. Smith convinced Hahn that photography was serious and powerful.

Hahn printed “Untitled (Barbara, Genesee Park)”, 1971, on fabric and sewing.

“It’s all a big no-no,” Ware said. Work “tends to be more personal; it’s about a family or it’s about sexuality. They also said that photography is constructed by the artist.

When Hahn moved to Rochester, New York, to pursue work at Kodak or Xerox, she attended evening workshops. She eventually taught at Rochester Institute of Technology with photographer Bea Nettles, but not without a fight.

“They said, ‘We can’t put a woman in the darkroom with a student,'” Ware said. “Eventually they were hired.”

“You Can Take Me Now” by Joyce Neimanas, 1978, combines Polaroid and pigment. She has created work on heterosexual desire from a female point of view. She contrasted the shy and erotic accessory of a hand-held fan against a floral background with a blunt look with stenciled words.

“It’s very inconclusive; it’s very layered,” Ware said. “She plays with images and media.

Neimanas also created works using stills from pornographic films and texts from the Kinsey Report, a scientific book on sexual behavior. She then taught at UNM.

“Discrete Multivariate Analysis” by Thomas J. Barrow, 1981, is a gelatin silver print coated with automotive lacquers and epoxy enamel. Barrow studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago founded by Moholy-Nagy of the Bauhaus.

Barrow worked in photograms, printed images made without a camera using photosensitive materials and light.

“It’s one of the earliest forms of photography,” Ware said.

Made with lights, objects, stencils and spray paint, there is something electric and new about her work.

“It’s a very layered composition,” Ware said, “all kinds of different objects and text. He uses auto enamel on top of all that. You see the film strips and the objects he has put on it like the hand.

Barrow used collage to reflect the chaos of life, such as the Dadaists reacting to the horrors of World War I.

“It’s not Yellowstone. It’s not a portrait,” Ware said. “It’s how do we think, how do we keep so many things in our heads?

“There’s only one,” Ware added. “You can’t reproduce it from a negative. This makes it absolutely unique, like a painting.


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