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Martha Madigan (1950–2022)

Seed of Light: Embodied #15, 1996-97 solar photogr...

Seed of Light: Embodied #15, 1996-97
solar photogram
24" x 20", signed and dated


Prints & Publications

Artist Information

“My work is a direct experience of light and the fragility of life through the seasons. Nature is a great teacher. Nature always reminds me of the fullness and vitality of life as well as the death and decay that dwells within every living thing.”[1]
Martha Madigan (1950–2022) is celebrated for her commitment to a multitude of technical approaches to the discipline of photography, from the oldest cyanotype processes to the latest advances in digital color photography. Her most celebrated works are the high-contrast photograms she created for over forty years that index the human figure, botanical forms and architectural structures.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Madigan received her BS from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her interest in camera-less photography emerged during her graduate studies, when she produced her earliest mature photograms. In 1978, she was invited to photograph artists Alice Neel, Isabel Bishop and Selma Burke in the Oval Office with President Jimmy Carter. After moving to Philadelphia in 1979, Madigan authored a series of cyanotypes documenting the decorative ironwork of the city’s Falls Bridge, which was covered in climbing vegetation; other works from these years similarly capture cyclone fencing in Chicago and Detroit. In the early 1980s, Madigan began working with printing-out-paper (P.O.P.), which became her preferred material for the following decades. The artist began what would become her magnum opus in 1989, when she set out to capture large-scale “body print” photograms of the human figure from birth through age 100; created over the next three decades, Madigan’s Human Nature series constitutes a testament to the human life cycle and its place within the natural world.
Madigan explored a wealth of interrelated themes in her work, from birth, death, and rebirth to fertility and decay. The complexly layered exposures contained within each rectangle of P.O.P. reveal elegant formal incidents between the human body and botanical organisms, opening the implications of each image onto a host of interpretations pregnant with the weight of existential meaning. The artist often used her three children and the children of friends as
[1] Martha Madigan, artist statement,, (accessed August 2022)


her subjects, seeking to find “the essential truth in the teachings of nature; death and life as a continuum; the temporary nature of the body; and the struggle between human desire and spiritual evolution,” as she put it. For Madigan, her solar photograms evidence the life-giving nature of the sun and the Earth’s eternally changing seasons. Working out of studios in Pennsylvania and Maine, the artist cultivated a sprawling oeuvre that constitutes, as historian, critic, and photographer A. D. Coleman writes, “one of the most coherent and durable considerations of the photogram in the medium’s history.” In addition to her photography career, Madigan was a dedicated teacher who nurtured hundreds of students as a professor at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she eventually chaired the Photography Department and earned the status of Professor Emerita.
Madigan was honored with numerous awards and recognitions during her lifetime. The year 1996 was an especially triumphant one for the artist; she received a Leeway Grant for Excellence in Photography, the Haggerty Art Museum in Milwaukee mounted her first solo museum exhibition, and her first public commission, an installation at the CoreStates Center sports arena in Philadelphia, was completed. Five more public art commissions would follow, including installations at Rittenhouse Square and the Eagles Football Stadium in Philadelphia, as well as projects for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Her work was the focus of solo exhibitions at the United States Embassy in Windhoek, Namibia (2000), the Villa Poniatowski in Rome (2006) and the Tuska Center for Contemporary Art at the University of Kentucky, Lexington (2008). Madigan’s figural photograms were the subject of three solo exhibitions at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in 1994, 1997 and 2001; accompanying exhibition catalogues were published for the latter two exhibitions. She also received many teaching and residency invitations from around the country and beyond. The artist is represented in numerous museum collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, California Museum of Photography in Riverside, The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Milwaukee Art Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

MFA - School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL

Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY (Summer)

Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ (Graduate Studies)

BS in Art Education, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI


Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside, CA
Colorado Mountain College, Breckenridge, CO
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Illinois State Museum, Springfield, IL
James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA
Madison Art Center, Madison, WI
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
The Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
The Pinhole Resource, San Lorenzo, NM
Research Center, Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA

Infiorate: flower carpet paintings of Italy: an artist’s perspective, The Philadelphia Flower Show, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA
Joan Shepp Boutique, Philadelphia, PA
Summer Snow?, The Children’s Museum of Manhattan, New York, NY

Martha Madigan:  Botanical Portrait, Tuska Center for Contemporary Art, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY; Ligne Roset, Philadelphia, PA

Martha Madigan:  Autumn Equinox:  Human Nature, The Mariboe Gallery, Peddie School, Hightstown, NJ

Martha Madigan: This World is Like a Garden in Bloom Only for a Few Days, Villa Poniatowki, Rome, Italy

Martha Madigan: Graciela Growth, Terminal F, Philadelphia International Airport, Philadelphia, PA
Martha Madigan, Solar Photograms: New Work, Philadelphia Open Studio Tours, Philadelphia, PA

Human Nature, Hollins University, Roanoke, VA
Vernal Equinox, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
Martha Madigan, Recent Work: Solar Photograms, Philadelphia Artists Open Studio Tours, Philadelphia, PA

United States Embassy Exhibition 2000, Art in Embassies Program, Windhoek, Namibia

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY

Martha Madigan: Exploring the Human Spirit, Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, Pittsburgh, PA
Seeds of Light, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY

New Image Gallery, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Human Nature: Solar Photograms by Martha Madigan, Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY

Red Eye Gallery, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI

University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Snug Harbor Cultural Arts Museum, Staten Island, NY

St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA
Foreman Gallery, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY

University of Montana, Missoula, MT
Notre Dame College, Baltimore, MD

Amarillo College, Amarillo, TX
Colorado Mountain College, Breckenridge, CO

Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY
University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI
Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia, PA

Columbia College, Chicago. IL
Philadelphia College of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Sol Mednick Gallery, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Metro State College, Denver, CO

The Hayes Gallery, Milwaukee, WI

Fort Sheridan Gallery, Fort Sheridan, IL
The North Shore Country Day School, Winnetka, IL

Seasons, permanent installation at Rittenhouse Square Lobby, 1845 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia Eagles Football Stadium Murals, Philadelphia, PA

PS/IS #499, (Public Elementary School), Department of Cultural Affairs, New York, NY

Percent for Art Commission, City of New York, Department of Cultural Affairs, New York, NY

Seasons, Temple University Children’s Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA

Elements, CoreStates Center (First Union Center), Philadelphia, PA