Nude with Vegetable by Betty Hahn
Cooking up Change
In our present age of image proliferation and process plurarity, it may be difficult to imagine an earlier time when photography was only just beginning to be accepted as a legitimate art medium. Most of its serious practitioners, primarily men, protected this hard-won status by hewing to agreed-upon standards: black-and-white, 8x10, real-life subjects, beauty. Coming out of a broader arts education and the unique tutelage of photographer Henry Holmes Smith, Betty Hahn emerged with her M.F.A. from Indiana University in 1966 with a much different approach to the medium. The following year, she found her tribe in Rochester, New York, where kindred spirits were also thinking outside the gelatin-silver box.
Relentlessly creative, Hahn was less interested in canon-busting than in concocting fresh recipes for photographic image making. These delicious gum prints from early in her career – here published together and in color for the first time – beautifully illustrate her unconstrained work with the medium. In a conversation with the curator David Haberstich, Hahn said she had in mind Edward Weston and his iconic images of produce (and perhaps also the nudes) while making these negatives 1. But Hahn’s tiny, parti-colored prints are more referential than reverential, matching the print colors to the vegetable or fruit pictured and playing off Weston’s classic work with complexity and wit, an amuse bouche that hinted at her interesting and innovative career ahead.
1 For more information about the artist, see the excellent resource Betty Hahn: Photography or Maybe Not (University of New Mexico Press, 1995). These gum prints are mentioned on p. 29-30 and p. 180.
-- Katherine Ware, Curator of Photography at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts
Betty Hahn lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico.