The career and education of photographer Betty Hahn demonstrate that careers in art don’t always follow a linear trajectory. Beginning her education at Indiana University, Hahn focused on drawing and painting. She continued her graduate studies there, specializing in photography and eventually graduating and teaching photography at various institutions, including the University of New Mexico.
Hahn’s expertise in photography manifested itself in a particular interest in testing the boundaries of what was accepted in photography at the time. However, her background in drawing and painting never left the peripheral of her artistic endeavors. While her work in photography was a vital component of her career, some of her most important work began as drawings that were brought to life through printing techniques.
The Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts’s permanent collection contains one such piece. Hahn’s 1975 Untitled project shows something unique from a photographer, especially for its time. This piece is an offset lithograph, meaning it started as a drawing on a surface, usually a plate, that was eventually transferred to a print medium. This involves a method of transfer where the material is brought from the plate to flexible rubber, from the rubber to the paper. Offset lithography has an extensive history predating Hahn’s work, and Hahn’s use of it to create such an abstract print image can be attributed to the invention of the offset lithograph in 1875.
Looking at the artwork brings you into a state of curiosity. It is an example of abstraction from an artist with a background in photography, a special stylistic crossover, as both photographers and abstractionists have an eye for capturing unique scenarios in inventive ways. Hahn’s figures seem abstract and real, with black daffodils and irises scattered around the top drawn in stunning detail, supported by stems of different-colored lines. While taking an exact shape, these stems provide the piece with some abstraction due to their odd colors and haphazard way of connecting to the flowers.
Untitled is not Hahn’s first venture combining abstract and formal elements in the same work. While the realism of her work is at its forefront, as it depicts real and tangible objects, there are instances where shapes are incorporated to provide a surreal tone. In her 1972 work, Cabbage, a white frame surrounds a green-filtered photograph of a cabbage with seemingly random white, black and blue lines drawn throughout.
The dichotomy of formality and abstraction, of the known and the unknown, makes the crossover between a photographer and their work in lithography, particularly as it relates to Hahn’s background, so unique. Abstraction had somewhat predated Hahn’s time, seeing its glory days in the 1960s. Hahn built upon the abstraction of the previous decade and incorporated it into her concrete artistic interests. Untitled is an important piece of the MoFA’s permanent collection, characteristic of the diverse and interesting work that can be found behind the scenes at the museum.
My name is Gabbi Santeiro, and I’m a Public Relations major at FSU, minoring in Spanish and Humanities. I am also a Communications Intern with the College of Fine Arts, taking my passion for communications and writing and applying it to my love for the arts. My time writing with the MoFA has allowed me to be surrounded by art in many forms, and it has been eye-opening to look further into their Permanent Collection.