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Oct
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Exhibition: ‘A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer’ at Tacoma Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 2nd July – 16th October 2011

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It is such a joy constructing this blog. I get to educate myself on these wonderful, half-forgotten photographers and then bring their photographs to you. What a life Haffer must have had: she found success as a photographer, printmaker, painter, musician, sculptor, and published writer. Independent-minded and self-sufficient, as most artists are, this is an artist I would have liked to have met!

Many thankx to the Tacoma Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Virna Haffer
Eleventh Street Bridge
circa 1930s
Woodblock print
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Carolyn Schneider

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Virna Haffer
Abstract #2
circa 1960s
Photogram
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

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Virna Haffer
Aftermath
circa 1962
Photogram
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

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“One of the most inventive Northwest artists of her time, Virna Haffer was an internationally recognized and respected Tacoma photographer who has slipped from both regional and national art history books. This summer, Tacoma Art Museum uncovers her innovative artwork.

In a career spanning more than six decades, Haffer found success as a photographer, printmaker, painter, musician, sculptor, and published writer, though she is known first and foremost as a photographer. Self-taught, she began her ambitious career in the early 1920s, both running a successful portrait studio (where she photographed the likes of the Weyerhaeuser and Chihuly families) and also exhibiting her unique artistic images around the world.

The curatorial team of Margaret Bullock, Christina Henderson, and David Martin searched through more than 30,000 of Virna Haffer’s photographic negatives, prints, and woodblocks at the Washington State Historical Society and Tacoma Public Library’s Special Collections to create this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue.

“It is an amazing opportunity to be able to bring the life and work of Virna Haffer to light once again,” said Margaret Bullock, Tacoma Art Museum’s Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions, and a co-curator of the Haffer exhibition. “Her artistic curiosity is palpable in her work, which in itself is staggering in its volume, diversity, and range. Her role in and impact on the Northwest photographic community is just beginning to be uncovered and understood as we explore her unrivaled photographic legacy.”

Raised in the utopian community of Home Colony in South Puget Sound in the early 1900s, Haffer’s love of photography was sparked when she was just ten years old. Raised to be independent-minded and self-sufficient, she left school at the age of 15 to become a professional photographer. In 1914 she apprenticed herself to Tacoma photographer Harriette H. Ihrig where she absorbed the necessary technical skills along with the business know-how to run a commercial studio. She started exhibiting her fine art photographs in 1924.

Haffer tirelessly experimented with techniques and evolved her own rules, pushing beyond the boundaries of her medium to methodically master a variety of photographic styles and techniques. Her body of work includes images that can be classified as pictoralist, surrealist, documentary, and modernist. She experimented with a wide range of imagery, such as multiple overlapping exposures, eccentric viewpoints, composite images, and a non-mechanical photographic process called the photogram.

“Virna Haffer has been an all too well kept Tacoma secret,” said Stephanie A. Stebich, Director of Tacoma Art Museum. “Her work has been quietly appreciated for decades awaiting reconsideration. Given her Tacoma roots, pivotal role in Tacoma’s art community throughout her career, and diverse and stunning body of work, Virna Haffer is a perfect subject for the museum’s Northwest Perspective Series, which celebrates the work of regional artists.”

Haffer’s passion for photography not only brought her success in business with her own portrait photography studio, but also international recognition. Her commercial portrait work can be found in homes all over Tacoma, while her fine art photographs can be found in the permanent collections of institutions as prestigious as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.”

Text from the Tacoma Museum of Art website

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Virna Haffer
Mina Quevli
circa 1930
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

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Virna Haffer
Franz Brasz, The Artist
circa 1937
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

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Virna Haffer
Old Tacoma Hotel Fire
circa 1935
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

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Virna Haffer
Self Portrait
1929
Gelatin silver print with added pigmentation
Private collection

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Tacoma Art Museum
1701 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

Tacoma Art Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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