One of the most inventive Northwest artists of her time, Virna Haffer was an internationally recognized and respected Tacoma photographer who has slipped from both regional and national art history books. During the summer, Tacoma Art Museum
uncovered her innovative artwork in A Turbulent Lens: The Photographic Art of Virna Haffer, on view from July 2 through October 16, 2011.
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 Haffers photographic negatives, prints, and woodblocks at the Washington State Historical Society and Tacoma Public Librarys 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 Museums 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 unrivaled photographic legacy.
Raised in the utopian community of Home Colony in South Puget Sound in the early 1900s, Haffers 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 Tacomas art community throughout her career, and diverse and stunning body of work, Virna Haffer is a perfect subject for the museums Northwest Perspective Series, which celebrates the work of regional artists.
Haffers 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.