For almost three decades artist Martha Madigan has worked with large-scale photograms, using a camera-less process to register the shapes of objects or human subjects on photographic paper by direct exposure to light. Madigan’s pictures both record and transform the human figure in this way, while addressing themes such as the balance between life and death, the relationship between nature and culture, and the fleeting existence of the body.
Magidan created the photographs in the series Human Nature through an elaborate process involving multiple exposures. For the first step in making the image Clara (Autumn), for example, Madigan had her daughter lie down outdoors on multiple sheets of “printing-out paper,” a type of contact paper that develops slowly in sunlight. After after making a solar photogram of her daughter’s silhouette, Madigan covered the print with leaves and exposed it to sunlight again, so that the different elements begin to merge in the resulting picture. She then arranged a new layer of foliage on top of the twice-exposed image and photographed it in color with a large-format camera. The final Type R prints combine ghostly negative shapes and positive images of autumnal leaves.
Madigan began working with photograms as an undergraduate, as early as 1972, but she has also intermittently made photographs with a camera and film. The photograph Untitled (Kathy and John) is from a series of gelatin silver prints that Madigan made using a pinhole camera in 1979, while teaching at the North Shore County Day School in Winnetka, Illinois. For these images she asked pairs of her students to sit for a five minute exposure, while talking with each other about their friendships. The conversations were recorded, and Madigan transcribed an excerpt onto the final print below the photographic image.
Born in Milwaukee in 1950, Madigan completed a BS in Art Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1972) and an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1978). She taught photography and printmaking at North Shore Country Day School from 1973 to 1978. Subsequently she held positions at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Wayne State University in Detroit, and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Since 1983 she has been a professor of photography at Tyler School of Art at Temple University, Philadelphia.
Martha Madigan is best known for her exquisite solar photograms and public art works that refer to, record or transform aspects of nature and the human figure. Madigan has explored the history of photographic light sensitive materials from the earliest cyanotype process to the latest in digital color photography.
Madigan studied art education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and earned an MFA in Photography from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1978. Martha Madigan has served as a professor in the Photography Department, Tyler School of Art/Temple University since 1979. She has received numerous awards, grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Temple University, and other organizations.
Her work is exhibited internationally, and is in the collections of major museums including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as in private collections and institutions worldwide.