Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hazel Larsen Archer and Photography at Black Mountain College

The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston has recently opened a show entitled LEAP BEFORE YOU LOOK: Black Mountain College 1933 - 1957

Black Mountain College gets the attention of the ICA's curators in Boston because it had a profound impact on the arts in America in the latter half of the 20th century. 

You can purchase the catalog for this show here.

The show at the ICA is a reminder that the story of Black Mountain College is an important story about the South, and about the arts. and about photography. 

Black Mountain College, in the small town of Black Mountain, NC, just east of Asheville, was open from 1933 to 1957, but in that brief time it numbered among its students or faculty members a truly breath-taking number of people who were to transform the visual and performing arts in America in the latter half of the 20th century.

You can learn more about the history of the College here. 

This list includes such distinguished writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, and musicians as Josef and Anni Albers, Josef Breitenbach, John Cage, , Mary Callery, Fritz Cohen, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Edward Dahlberg, Max Dehn, Willem de Kooning, Robert Duncan, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Lou Harrison, Alfred Kazin, Franz Kline, Jacob Lawrence, Richard Lippold, Alvin Lustig, Charles OlsonAlbert William Levi, Alexander Schawinsky, Ben Shahn, Arthur Siegel, Theodoros Stamos, Cy Twombly, Jack Tworkov, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg and Emerson Woelffer

Photographers associated with Black Mountain College included Harry Callahan, Beaumont Newhall, and Aaron Siskind.

Not as well known as a photographer but far more important for Black Mountain College was Hazel Larsen Archer (see image above), who became a student at the College in 1944, then stayed on as a professor of photography until the College closed for good in 1957.

She taught photography to Robert Rauschenberg (the man in the image above) and Cy Twombly, both of whom continued the practice of photography throughout their long careers as painters and artists.  

Robert Rauschenberg's son Christopher would of course grow up to be a fine art photographer and co-founder of PhotoLucida. 

Archer documented in her own photography the life of the College and the people who made Black Mountain College the unique educational institution it turned out to be. 

She made portraits of teachers and students, including Merce Cunningham dancing (see image above), whom she photographed in sequences of images, capturing the development of his distinctive style of modern dance at its beginning, communicating movement through space and time. 


She also photographed John Cage, Willem de Kooning (see image below), Ruth Asawa, Josef and Anni Albers, and, and, among others, Buckminster Fuller (see image above) surrounded by his amazing array of geometric models.  

Below is her formal portrait of Robert Rauschenberg. 

Archer also photographed the community in action, especially its engagement in farming, and its efforts to merge faculty and students into a single community, united by their engagement in the arts.

The story of Black Mountain College -- located in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, long before either it or its neighbor Asheville had become the arts centers they are today -- is a reminder that in the South and in the arts sometimes wonderful and magical things happen.  
So much started here, so much worth celebrating in the arts, enabled by the time, the location, the people, and in the South, too.

Good to remember, and to be thankful that Hazel Larsen Archer was there, as a photographer, to document the people and the place, and what they did there that so strongly influenced American culture for the next half-century.

among its students and faculty including, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, Walter Gropius, Josef Albers, John Cage, Charles Olson, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham and Willem de Kooning, - See more at:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I like to study photography to capture the beauty of the environment and the memories.