08
Oct
11

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

Exhibition dates: 2nd July – 16th October 2011

 

Virna Haffer. 'Eleventh Street Bridge' c. 1930s

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Eleventh Street Bridge
c. 1930s
Woodblock print
Tacoma Art Museum, Gift of Carolyn Schneider

 

 

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!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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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.

 

Virna Haffer. 'Abstract #2' c. 1960s

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Abstract #2
c. 1960s
Photogram
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974) 'Untitled [tree and chair]' c. 1962

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Untitled [tree and chair]
c. 1962
From the series Aftermath
Photogram
50.8 h x 40.6 w cm
National Gallery of Australia
Gift of the Estate of Virna Haffer 2011

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974) 'Swirl' c. 1940

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Swirl
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
39.4 h x 31.8 w cm
National Gallery of Australia
Gift of the Estate of Virna Haffer 2011

 

Virna Haffer. 'Aftermath' c. 1962

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Aftermath
c. 1962
Photogram
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

 

 

One of the most inventive Northwest artists of her time, Virna Haffer was an internationally recognised 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 unrivalled 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

 

Virna Haffer. 'Mina Quevli' c. 1930

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Mina Quevli
c. 1930
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

 

Virna Haffer. 'Franz Brasz, The Artist' c. 1937

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Franz Brasz, The Artist
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

 

 

Franz Brasz

Arnold Franz Brasz (July 19, 1888 – April 1, 1966) was an American painter, sculptor, and printmaker who was born in Polk County, Wisconsin on July 19, 1888. He studied at the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts and also with Robert Henri in New York. By the early 1920s, he was dividing his time between southern California and Wisconsin. He is considered a member of the Ashcan School, and his public commissions include Fruit Pickers, a 1940 mural in the city hall of Redlands, California showing four Native American farm workers. Brasz died at his home in Glendale, California on April 1, 1966.

 

Virna Haffer

Virna Haffer (1899-1974) was an American photographer, printmaker, painter, musician, and published author.

Born in 1899 in Aurora, Illinois, Haffer and her family moved to the utopian community of Home in South Puget Sound in Washington State in 1907. When she was 15 years old Haffer became the apprentice of the photographer Harriette H. Ihrig. She opened her own portrait photography studio in Tacoma, Washington and began publishing her photographs in 1924. Haffer was known for experimenting with unusual, quirky techniques and created her own artistic style that stretched the boundaries of artistic classifications in the early twentieth century. Haffer’s work was eccentric; she produced pictorialist, modern, surreal, and documentary style work.

Haffer was married three times, the second time to socialist and labor advocate Paul Raymond Haffer, with whom she had one son, Jean Paul Haffer. One of her works as a commercial photographic portraitist was a childhood picture of future glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Haffer’s work was first exhibited in 1924 in the Fifth Annual F&N Salon of Pictorial Photography, and in 1928 at the Seattle Camera Club’s Fourth International Exhibition. By 1930 her work was internationally recognised, and often appeared in publications such as the American Annual of Photography. In addition, she won recognition and prizes in photographic competitions in the United States in the 1930s. In the 1960s she took an interest in producing photograms, and in 1969 she published a book about the process called Making Photograms: The Creative Process of Painting With Light. Haffer’s work was also the subject of several solo exhibitions at locations including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1960; California Museum of Science and Industry, Los Angeles, 1964; New York Camera Club, 1967 and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, NYC, 1968. A posthumous retrospective of her work, A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer, was produced at the Tacoma Art Museum in 2011.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Virna Haffer. 'Old Tacoma Hotel Fire' c. 1935

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Old Tacoma Hotel Fire
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974) 'The Family' 1929

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
The Family
1929
Woodblock print
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974) 'Hooverville' c. 1936

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Hooverville
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the Washington State Historical Society, gift of the estate of Virna Haffer

 

Virna Haffer. 'Self Portrait' 1929

 

Virna Haffer (American, 1899-1974)
Self Portrait
1929
Gelatin silver print with added pigmentation
Private collection

 

'A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer' catalogue cover

'A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer' catalogue pages

'A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer' catalogue pages

'A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer' catalogue pages

'A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer' catalogue pages

 

A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer catalogue cover and pages

 

 

Tacoma Art Museum
1701 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98402

Opening hours:
Tuesday – 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 art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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