New Mexico History Museum

Collections of Photographer Donald Woodman Accepted into the Palace Photo Archives

July 25, 2011


For more than 40 years, Donald Woodman has engaged the world through a camera’s lens. With a focus that ranges from architecture to therapy, clouds, the Holocaust and small-town rodeos, his evocative results have landed in collections that include London’s Victoria and Albert Museum; Switzerland’s Museum of Art and History; the New Orleans Museum of Art; and Ohio’s Butler Art Institute.

The New Mexico History Museum proudly announces that the Photo Archives at the Palace of the Governors has accepted Woodman’s photographic archives into its collection. Currently housed in the Belen studio that Woodman shares with his wife, artist Judy Chicago, his archive includes negatives, slides, digital media, equipment, diaries, notebooks, correspondence, exhibition records and research. The first material that will be prepared for the Photo Archives’ collection is the series The Rodeo and the West. Woodman and museum officials are developing details for the transfer of this work.

While living in Galisteo, NM, in the early 1980s, Woodman photographed the Galisteo Rodeo as well as the Western landscape, offering a glimpse into Western life and range lands. Photographed with a 100-year-old Brownie-style box camera fitted with a Polaroid back and using Polaroid 4×5 type 55 p/n film, the images emphasize the rough-and-tumble side of a super-macho arena and the vast loneliness of the land.

“We are honored to receive this body of Woodman’s work,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the History Museum. “He captured so many topics in evocative images of modern New Mexico.”

Beginning in his collegiate days at the University of Cincinnati, Woodman started his professional career as assistant to architectural photographer Ezra Stoller (recognized as the leading American architectural photographer of the 20th century); assistant to Minor White (renowned photographer, teacher, critic, editor, and curator, whose efforts to extend photography’s range of expression made him one of the most influential creative photographers of the mid-20th century); and assistant to painter Agnes Martin (noted minimalist/abstract expressionist painter of the 20th century). For the last 25 years, he has at times collaborated with his wife on both art projects and teaching. Throughout this time, he has melded a broad knowledge of traditional photographic techniques with new advances in digital photography – along the way becoming a valued teacher to students at several U.S. universities.

Woodman first came to New Mexico in 1972, working at the Sacramento Peak Solar Observatory, Sunspot, NM, as a research assistant and photographer/filmmaker on sophisticated scientific photography and solar observations. From 1977-85, he lived in Galisteo, NM, while working as Agnes Martin’s assistant and building a studio and rammed-earth house for her. From 1972-85, he created several major series of black-and-white photographs using 4x5 Polaroid positive/negative film – work partly supported by the Polaroid Corporation, which purchased and exhibited many of the images in conjunction with the prestigious Polaroid Collection Program.

“Donald Woodman is a true Renaissance artist, and his archives will be a resource for the future – for research, publication, and exhibition,” said Mary Anne Redding, photo archivist for the museum. “His images will reveal what New Mexico and the Southwest looked like during the transition from analogue to digital, as well as from a thriving desert environment to overpopulation and water shortages.”

Woodman’s most recent work is the subject of a solo exhibition at Zane Bennett Contemporary Art, 435 S. Guadalupe St., in Santa Fe. Attractions…Addictions and Other Kodak Moments opens July 29 and runs through Aug. 26. (Opening reception, 5-7 pm on Friday, July 29.) After years of creating series of works, Woodman decided that he wanted to do something different. Attractions…Addictions and Other Kodak Moments consists of a grouping of images that share a certain quirkiness reflecting his personal view of the world. Taken on various travels, from Las Vegas to New York and points between, Woodman also returns to the subject of Rodeo; this time, the Gay Rodeo. In his insightful essay for the exhibition Joe Traugott, curator of 20th-century art at the New Mexico Museum of Art, writes:

“The works in this exhibition evolved from the point of view that there is always time for a road trip into the unexplored. When the Department of Energy announced the last free tour of the Trinity Site, Woodman couldn’t resist the invitation. … Another road trip culminated at the Canadian Rockies International Rodeo in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. ... So what is a straight photographer wearing nail polish doing at a gay rodeo? It might appear that Woodman’s new works inappropriately invade privacy and are even voyeuristic. However, in many ways this is a byproduct of the digital age in which smart phones and electronic wonders are barely larger than Cold War spy cameras. These devices render privacy dead, and leave everyone open to visual appropriation. Woodman’s images reflect this social reality in ways that seemed impossible a decade ago. In this context, nothing is scared; nothing is private.”

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