Photographing from a wheelchair

Hazel Larsen Archer (what a name for a photographer!) was the first full-time instructor of photography at Black Mountain College (1933 – 1957), the experimental art school 20 miles outside of Asheville, North Carolina.

Her influence on Robert Rauschenberg is apparent in her acute awareness of shadow’s underlying potential to convey forceful vulnerability while avoiding a patronizing idolization, as well as the belief that photos should be made within the camera — so no cropping; nowadays, she’d probably avoid Photoshop and always use #nofilter on Instagram.

Archer survived polio at 10 years old, and spent most of her life using wheelchairs, braces, or crutches. She had to navigate the steep terrains of Black Mountain to realize these exquisite photos: 

Hazel Larsen Archer, Untitled (Ray Johnson in his study), ca. 1945-48. Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer.
“Interior of the Quiet House” (1948). Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.
Hazel Larsen Archer
Robert Rauschenberg and Betty Jennerjahn
1948–1952

Archer’s daughter, Erika Zarow, described Archer’s aesthetic philosophy as:

“[The] camera faithfully records not only what is in front of it, but what is behind it as well. [It’s a way of] observing one’s self observing.”

– Erika Zarow,
in “Disciplined by Albers: Foundations at Black Mountain College” by Leah Dickerman

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