Hazel Larsen Archer was a luminary yet underrecognized photographer and educator who inspired countless others, celebrated now at the Center for Creative Photography along with her student, Linda McCartney.
Sessions on Creative Photography: Hazel Larsen Archer
February 25–August 5, 2023
Center for Creative Photography, Tucson
Tucked inside The Linda McCartney Retrospective is a room filled with images by the greatest photographic educator you’ve never heard of.
Hazel Larsen Archer was a luminary photographer and educator who inspired countless photographers—many of whom built illustrious careers after studying with her, including Linda McCartney. While Archer’s life and work are not as well known as some of her students and peers, the exhibition Sessions on Creative Photography: Hazel Larsen Archer shines a light on the understated, delicate work of this brilliant practitioner with reverence and care.
Dexterously researched and skillfully curated by Meg Jackson Fox at CCP, Archer’s work is situated with just enough breathing space and minimal yet extremely thoughtful interpretation to be experienced somatically. The subtle prints reverberate.
Archer spent more than half of her life in the Southwest. She ran a photography studio out of her home and worked as the adult education director for the Tucson Art Center in the 1960s, which would later become the Tucson Museum of Art. The exhibition includes images from many stages of her life and work, with special attention to her time at Black Mountain College and her early days in Tucson.
Upon entering the show from the east, the viewer’s entire field of vision is filled with a gallery wall devoted to images made in 1951, “the Summer of Photography” organized by Archer in her second year teaching at Black Mountain College after she had been a student there from 1944 to 1948. On view are images by Nancy Newhall, Josef Breitenbach, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, and Archer herself, anchoring the exhibition with experimental and boundary-pushing images from a pivotal moment in mid-century photography and from BMC’s unexpected geographic locus of avant-garde activity.
Questions permeate the didactics of the show, what the curator calls “exercises in perception,” inviting visitors into conversation across time and space with Archer and Josef Albers—one of Archer’s most influential mentors who believed education was rooted in “the giving of right questions.” The text “What makes a true visionary?” sits just under an exquisitely quiet portrait of powerhouse artist and BMC alumna Ruth Asawa (ca. 1946-48, during their time together as students). “What motivates you to take a photograph in a moment? What factors into your decision not to take a photograph in other moments?” flanks a slideshow of early and never-before-exhibited images by McCartney from around the time she was studying under Archer.
In the ongoing legacy of Black Mountain College pedagogy and Archer’s belief that perception and self-observation are at the core of artistic observation, University of Arizona students from Introduction to Applied Humanities, taught by Jacqueline Barrios, have been invited to engage with the exhibition and other photographers in CCP’s collection and to create their own visual narratives. Photo essays and photographs co-created during this collaboration with the El Pueblo community are on view within the exhibition.
Experiencing this show in person is well worth it, and possible for only one more week as it closes on August 5, 2023. For the final weekend of this exhibition, CCP will extend their hours this Friday and Saturday, August 4–5, closing at 7 pm.