NAOMI SAVAGE (1927-2005)
Multiple-toned photographic print on heavy paper
6 ½ x 4 ¾ inches (image)
11 ¼ x 8 ½ inches (sheet)
Titled, signed, and dated in pencil at margin: Mask / N. Savage 1999
Mask, 1960, photograph (multiple-toned), 9 5/8 x 6 7/8 inches; Museum of Modern Art, New York
Naomi Savage was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1927. From a very early age, Naomi was interested in the arts. Her mother encouraged her to pursue music, and as the niece of famous Dada and Surrealist painter, sculptor, and photographer, Man Ray, she was able to pursue her interests with much support from her family.
During high school, Naomi attended a class taught by Bernice Abbott, Man Ray's assistant in the 1920’s, at the New School for Social Research. She later attended Bennington College, where she studied music and the arts. Shortly after college, she traveled to California to study and apprentice with her uncle, Man Ray. Ray was a great inspiration to the young Naomi; he encouraged her to let her imagination create her art. Savage said later in her life that her strongest inheritance enriching her artistic career came from her uncle, Man Ray. "I never forgot his insightfulness," she said. "With him you could try anything - there was nothing you were told not to do, except spill the chemicals. With Man Ray, you were free to do what your imagination conjured and that kind of encouragement was wonderful".
In 1950, Naomi married painter, sculptor, and architect, David Savage. Shortly after, the couple moved to Lambertville, New Jersey, residing there for three years before moving to Princeton, New Jersey.
She had her first exhibition in 1952 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and exhibited there again in 1960, 1966, and 1968. Her work can now be seen in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the International Center of Photography in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, and the Noyes Museum in Oceanville, New Jersey.
Savage pioneered the use of photographic engravings for which she is best known. With a photographic engraving, the actual metal photographic plate itself is the art. It is described as a kind of topographic photograph with forms in three dimensions and with a variety of metallic surfaces and tones. Some of her most famous photographic engravings involve a series of portraits of her sister, which she manipulated in countless ways over many years. But her most famous photographic engraving (perhaps her most famous work of all) is a fifty-foot long mural she did on the side of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas.
Her approach to photography represents an involvement with process as medium, and an interest in art as image manipulation, a pursuit shared by contemporaries like Robert Heinecken, Betty Hahn, and Bea Nettles. Savage said that she had explored various techniques in an attempt to stretch photography with a personal interpretation. She experimented extensively with photogravure and photoengraving, employing these mechanical printing techniques for aesthetic effects rather than duplication. Savage used inked and intaglio relief prints to explore variations in color and texture, and considered the metal plate on which the photograph has been etched to be a work of art in its own right. She also combined media - collage, negative images, texture screening, multiple exposure, photograms, solarization, toning, printing on metallic foils - and made laser color prints.
Savage died in Princeton, New Jersey in 2005.