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"Hazel Larsen Archer: Trimming of this Photo is Forbidden"
2003-01-24 until 2003-03-01
Jan van der Donk
New York, NY, USA United States of America

The words above, written on the back of the many photographs by Hazel Larsen Archer (1921-2001) triggered the curiosity and conception that lies at the basis of this exhibition. Hazel Larsen Archer was first a student and then a teacher at Black Mountain College, spending a total of 9 years at this exceptional experiment in art education. Most of the photographs in this exhibition date from the year 1948. Mary Emma Harris writes, the summer of 1948, organized by Albers, was a magical one. It marked the end of the dominance of the European artists at the college and the emergence of the young Americans, who were to be the creative leaders in the arts in the United States for the next twenty-five years.

This show indeed documents the faces of the young Cunningham, the young Cage, de Kooning, Ruth Asawa, Dorothea Rockburne, Su†san†Weil,††Robert Rauschenberg and Ray Johnson. On view are also portraits of Josef and Annie Albers, Charles Olson and Buckminster Fuller, photographs of the environment of Black Mountain College, of the doors of the Quiet House, as well as her sun-prints, her photographic version of the Matiere Studies that all students made in the classes of the Albersí.

Roland Barthes pointed out that one of the qualities of photography is a Dagewesen Sein - a having been there - a notion that relates to the documentary value of photography. Of course, Larsen Archerís photographs show that she has been there, and all of the exhibited photographs have a documentary value, as does every photograph, but in this show we wish to present Larsen Archer as a photographer in the tradition of Alfred Stieglitz, whose work she admired so much.

About her portrait photography Larsen Archer said, I do not flatter, I do not retouch, I am interested in my subjects as individuals. And look how she sees the back of Ray Johnsonís head, or the top of John Cageís face, a photograph that makes him this good looking Frankenstein. Then there are the photographic sequences of the dancing Merce Cunningham, where each photograph appears to be a still photograph from a film with Merce flying out of the frame as a black angel. Larsen Archerís photographs fully grasp Merce?s interest in dance as movement in time, rather than poses.

All aesthetic possibilities are used. Larsen Archer plays with depth of field in a photograph of Sue Weil, her face protruding as if we are looking at a holographic portrait. In the double portrait of the historians of photography Nancy and Beaumont Newhall, we see her play with perspective and depth of field, a choreography of points of view rarely seen before.

Larsen Archerís photos have been published for their documentary value, and are known, though often without her being credited. This is the first time that attention has been given to the photographic qualities of Larsen Archerís work, to the aesthetic qualities that show us the work of an accomplished artistic vision that reflect the creative energy of Black Mountain College.


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