Barbara Blondeau

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Barbara Blondeau (1938–1974) was an experimental photographer in the mid-1960s through the early 1970s. Blondeau is best known for her strip prints which she stumbled upon while shooting with a malfunctioning camera.


Barbara Blondeau was born in Detroit in 1938. Originally trained as a painter, she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961. Under the direction of Aaron Siskind and Joseph Jachna at the Institute of Design she earned her Master's degree. Concepts such as transparency, repetition, patterning and the narrative emerged during graduate school. These concepts would reappear throughout her career.

While still earning her degree, Blondeau began teaching at St. Mary’s College in 1966. Her first solo show was in 1967 at St. Mary’s College. Blondeau finished her Master's degree in 1968 and moved to Philadelphia to teach at the Moore College of Art. She taught there until she was appointed the Chair of the Photography and Film Department at the Philadelphia College of Art in 1971.


It was a broken camera that caused Blondeau to stumble upon what would become her best-known work. While she was shooting the shutter to her camera stuck open as she wound the film. The abstract imagery and multiple overlapping exposures that resulted intrigued Blondeau, and she began to create these images purposefully. She experimented with strobe lights, different winding speeds and masking techniques. The resulting rolls were printed as one long image, a new take on the panorama format. Blondeau often worked with a dance company as her subjects for her strip prints. Their graceful movements left ghostly traces behind which Blondeau found desirable. She also experimented with different lighting to accompany the model.

Although Barbara Blondeau’s Photographic career was short, spanning less than ten years, it was productive. She experimented with color printing, multiple exposure, orthochromatic film, and contact printing. She was interested in exploring the natural world and reassembling the information into an artificial reality. In her color work, the color is never natural. In many prints Magenta is a prominent color. The human figure is also a main character in her work and Blondeau strived to abstract it in many different ways.

In her street photography Blondeau would often use orthochromatic film to make prints. This film is clear and yields a high contrast. Subtle gray tones and details are lost. This effect provides the viewer with a stark, concentrated reality. Any information gained from the image must be read solely from the highlights and shadows.

Although Blondeau only had two solo exhibitions during her short career, she was a part twenty-five group shows, eleven after her death. Time-Life Books highlighted her pictures in two of their publications, Frontiers of Photography and The Print. Her work was also published in the magazines Camera, Popular Photography Annual, After Image and Camera Arts. She was a part of the group exhibitions Vision and Expression and The Multiple Image, which both resulted in exhibition Catalogues. Her photographs are a part of the permanent collections at The National Gallery of Canada, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Rhode Island School of Design, and Colgate University.


On Christmas Eve, 1974 Barbara Blondeau’s life was cut short by cancer, which she had fought for four years.


Since her death there have been several showing of her work. Colleagues at the Philadelphia College of Art a Memorial exhibition in 1976, and a traveling Exhibition followed. A Catalogue, Barbara Blondeau 1938-1974 featured works from the exhibition and an essay was published by Visual Studies Workshop in the same year. In 1984, her strip prints were on display at the Laurence Miller Gallery in New York and the same gallery presented a second show entitled Permutations in 2010. Several group shows have included her photography after her death. Blondeau’s Archive is held at Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY.


Barbara Blondeau, 1938–1974 Edited by David Lebe, Joan S Redmond, and Ron Walker; Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop, 1976. Published in conjunction with the Exhibition Barbara Blondeau, 1938–1974 shown at the Philadelphia College of Art.

  • Bolton, Richard. The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. Boston: MIT Press, 1992.
  • Green, Jonathan. American Photography: a Critical History 1945 to the Present. Dearborn, MI: H.N. Abrams, 1984.
  • Grundberg, Andy. “Photography: Chicago Moholy and After.” Art in America September–October 1976, 34-39.
  • Hagen, Charles. “Barbara Blondeau.” After Image 3 no. 9 (March 1976): 10-13. Hirsch, Robert. Seizing the Light: a History of Photography. Dearborn, MI: McGraw-Hill, 2000.
  • Laurence Miller Gallery. “Barbara Blondeau: Permutations June 3 - July 1, 2010,” In Past Exhibitions. NY: Laurence Miller Gallery, 2010
  • The Multiple Image. Edited by Frank Martinelli. Massachusetts Institute of Technology published in conjunction with the Exhibition “The Multiple Image” shown at Creative Photography Gallery, University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Kingston: University of Rhode Island Arts Council, 1972.
  • Spaces Edited by Aaron Siskind and Diana L. Johnson. Providence : Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1978. Published in conjunction with the Exhibition Spaces shown at Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art.
  • Time-Life Books. The Print. Dearborn, MI: Time-Life Books, 1970.

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