Ellen Macfarlane is a modern art historian specializing in the history of photography and American art. Her dissertation, The Photography of Group f.64: Politics, Objects, Medium, is a revisionist history of the 1930s Bay Area photography collective that destabilizes pervasive myths about the group. Namely, that it that it was a short-lived, apolitical organization solely concerned with promoting sharp focus “art” photography by West Coast photographers even as America suffered through the Great Depression and interwar years. Ellen’s project expounds the ways in which f.64’s crusade for “straight” or “pure” photography was in fact bound up with its members’ multidimensional, and sometimes esoteric, social concerns. Considering issues of reception deeply, Ellen also explores specific instances in which, no matter the group’s intentions, f.64’s photographs of people or commonplace objects like rocks, fruits, and vegetables would have functioned as political images on account of contemporary current events to do with the rights of workers or Jim Crow law. Ultimately, Ellen’s dissertation revises conceptions not only of Group f.64, but also of what constitutes political photography and engaged practice.
Ellen received a B.A. in art history from the University of Southern California in 2006. Before and after graduation, Ellen worked for several years at Bonhams Auctioneers in Los Angeles. In 2011, Ellen earned an M.A. in art history from Rutgers University, and an M.A. from Princeton in 2013. At Rutgers, she wrote a Masters paper on Carrie Mae Weems, and was the Exhibitions Coordinator for the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Art Program.
Presently, Ellen lives in Los Angeles, where she is an Affiliated Researcher at the University of Southern California Visual Studies Research Institute and a 2016-17 Henry Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellow in American Art. During the summer of 2016, Ellen was the Michael J. Connell Foundation Fellow at the Huntington Library. In 2014-15, she held a Predoctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and in 2014, Ellen was the Edward Weston Family Research Fellow at the Center For Creative Photography.
“Group f.64, Rocks, and the Limits of the Political Photograph,” American Art vol. 30, no. 3 (fall 2016): 26-53.
Review of Kathryn E. Delmez, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video (exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), caa.reviews (2013).
Introduction, in From Ethiopia to New Jersey: Photography and HIV/AIDS (exh. cat. New Brunswick: The Johnson & Johnson Corporate Art Program, 2010).