Marcia Hafif (1929-2018), born in Pomona, California, is a plastic artist who is internationally renowned as one of the major practitioners of monochromatic painting in her time. After graduating from Pomona College in 1951, she completed post-graduate studies on the Italian Renaissance and Far Eastern Art. Throughout the 1960s, Hafif lived in Roma as a painter. She worked using a simple visual language, often organised by symmetries and a colour palette inspired by pop artists: “In those years, with a husband and a small child, I was very conscious of the simple forms that are found in and around the human body [...] I enlarged and abstracted them, sometimes making them recognizably related to a certain body part, often the hidden or sexual parts, or the negative space around them”.
Hafif became interested in photography thanks to Tony Vaccaro, a photographer that she met in Rome. She bought a reflex camera and, in the second half of the 1960s, completed her pictorial work with black and white photos. To make Roman Sunday (1968), she left her camera pointing at the door of a bar for a certain period of time, taking shots of clients as they exited the establishment. The series of photographs almost looks like a film strip and is indubitably an early suggestion of Hafif’s interest in capturing the linear passage of time. This work was a precursor to the cinematic style that Hafif adopted upon her return to California, in 1969.
In the two following years, Hafif dedicated considerable energy to cinema and photography in what was a period of creative experimentation for her. One of her first films shows nothing more than a cloud slowly transforming and moving into the distance. Hafif's first works in cinema and photography focus entirely on recording the motifs that she chooses to create. For example, she would film the goings-on of public parking lots in her home town, converting her involuntary actors into the protagonists of a narration of everyday life. For Chris Burden (1970), she focused her lens on the face of a colleague, recording a long shot of his face as he gradually lost control of his facial expression.
Marcia Hafif took creative writing classes in Pomona College and wrote narrative literature and art criticism throughout her career. Her writing was linked to her creative practice: her seminal essay Beginning Again is based on several years of her observations on painting that she wrote whilst working in her studio. In 1976, an invitation to contribute to Rooms, an exhibition at the Institute of Art and Urban Resources in New York (currently known as MoMA PS1), led to the creation of Schoolroom in Queens, a large installation in which Hafif carefully wrote an erotic text with chalk on several chalkboards.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the work of directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and Michelangelo Antonioni inspired Hafif to devote herself more to cinema. This led to her filming Notes on Bob and Nancy (1970–1977) and India Time (1978), her two longest films. This medium allowed her to articulate her ideas through an innovative combination of textual and visual material: she wrote texts that she later added to the image like a soundtrack. This image and text editing structure underpinned many of her subsequent films.
The relationship between the visual and linguistic dimensions in Hafif’s works is defined by divergence. Her voice sometimes refers directly to the plot and explains the image in movement. In other cases, the narrative may stray away from the action or include passages in the script that are unrelated to what is happening on the screen.