Bea Nettles is an American photographer known for her narrative, often autobiographical approach. Her formal training, in painting and printmaking rather than photography, informs her unconventional, multimedia presentation techniques. In the late 1960s, while still a graduate student, Nettles began to imbue her work with elements associated with women’s work. Drawing from her Grandmother’s quilting techniques, she started to machine stitch directly onto her photographs. Such unconventional, innovative and often then radical approaches to making photographs gained her early recognition. In the early 1970s, Nettles immersed herself in the production of limited edition books. Not only were these books filled with innovative printing techniques, but Nettles often cast images of herself as the main character. It was also in the early 1970s, that Nettles created what is considered to be the first ever photographic tarot deck, Mountain Dream Tarot Deck. Created long before Photoshop, the often complex images are all constructed out of representations of friends, family, and community members.
Self-published in an edition of 100, The Imaginary Blowtorch is a layered combination of offset lithographs, photographs on Mylar, screen prints and applied color. Published in 1972, it is Nettles' first poetry book and it features self-portraits and images of Bea's family with poetry by Bea's mother, Grace Nettles.
Bea Nettles has been exhibiting both nationally and internationally since the 1970s. She has had over 50 one-person exhibitions including the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, Light Gallery, and Witkin Gallery in NYC .“Bea Nettles: Harvest of Memory, a major retrospective” opened in October 2019 at the Sheldon Art Gallery in St Louis, moved to the Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY, in January 2020, and concluded at Krannert Art Museum. A book by the same name has been copublished by the Eastman Museum and the University of Texas Press. Her works are iincluded in such collections as the Museum of Modern Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Canada; the Polaroid International Collection; SF MOMA; the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC; the Eastman Museum in Rochester, NY; and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ. Her artists’ books are included in numerous special collections libraries at universities including Yale (Beinecke), Washington, and Virginia.
Nettles taught photography and artists’ books from 1970-2007 at Rochester Institute of Technology, Tyler School of Art, and the University of Illinois where she is a Professor Emerita. She was selected for the ACE Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 and the UIUC School of Art & Design Distinguished Alumni Award for 2020. Nettles continues to lecture and teach workshops internationally.