Woody Woodroof studied photography under landscape photographer Kent Bowser at Denison University during the late 1980’s, receiving his BFA in Photography. His continued education, thereafter, included a series of intensive workshops taught by several photographers who would have a profound impact on his later development. Among these early influences, Linda Connor, Sally Mann and Emmet Gowin are possibly the most prominent. During the 1990’s, Woodroof landed in Tucson, where his path crossed that of photo historian Keith McElroy at University of Arizona. McElroy kindly allowed him to take his History of Photography classes without Woodroof being officially enrolled at the university. It was McElroy who pointed Woodroof in the direction of photographer Ann Simmons-Myers, a well-known instructor of alternative photo processes and then a professor at Pima Community College. It was at PCC that Woodroof learned gum bi-chromate printing and the cyanotype process and was exposed to a variety of other alternative processes.
Woodroof’s working with medium and large format photography might be described as having classical pursuits within contemporary photography, but his experimentation with various materials and the building of cameras and the coating of unconventional papers would demonstrate that his work was becoming decidedly more intuitive or primitive. Thrift stores had become as important to his work as had the photographer's formulary, where photo chemicals might be purchased. Cruising for any containers that might be suitable for adaptation into pinhole cameras or camera obscuras became part of the ritual… suitcases, trashcans, tobacco tins, whatever he might find really could have in them the potential for new types of work. These years of eclectic education produced a lot of various types of work but Woodroof would be quick to point out that the process during this period was often more important than the ideas behind the work. One notable body of work from this period though, involved making pinhole images on 16”x20” singleweight paper and then later cyanotypes from those large paper negatives. Woodroof spent a couple of years producing a cohesive body of work that was exhibited at BeRo Gallery in Tucson, Arizona, in 1995 under the title “Cheap Camerawork” which included his homemade cameras themselves as part of the exhibition.
In 1996, Woody surprised his friends and family when he changed gears and left the southwest to found a community supported organic farm and non-profit foundation outside of Washington DC. The Red Wiggler Community Farm, which is now in its fourteenth year, is a non-profit endeavor whose mission is to grow and sell vegetables as a framework for training adults with developmental disabilities. This is a simple statement that only hints at the various ways in which the farm has become integrated to its surrounding communities. An appropriate discussion of the farm would have to include a good dozen or more separate ideas... slow food, local produce, horticultural therapy, vocational training, community involvement, volunteerism, market gardening, bio-diversity and even the casual observer will begin to see that the farm itself just might be the creation about which Woodroof will always be most energized. And the farm then becomes a logical point of inspiration for the possibility of artwork. Or vice versa.
During the past several years as director and principle instigator of such a non-profit, most of Woodroof’s photographic work has been limited to the documentation of the farm itself and, of course, the people working there. It was in 2005 that he finally decided to get back to exploring fine artwork and he soon returned to working with cyanotypes and cameraless photograms as there was no darkroom readily available on the farm and his preferred single weight 16x20 papers were no longer in production. Then it seemed natural for Woodroof, an organic farmer, to catalogue the crops growing in the fields around him. The 15”x 42” inch format of these cyanotypes was determined by the size of the largest tray he had available on the farm – namely, the bath tub.
In 2010 Woody began to question the social and environmental impacts of using cotton fabric for his prints. Beginning in 2011 the fabric of choice will be made from hemp which is an exceptionally beneficial, soil building, nitrogen fixing crop considered more sustainable than cotton by leaps and bounds. There are so many practical motives in the decisions around his work that the farm again insists its way into the process. As for the literal subject of the prints, the images exhibited here show the garlic plants that are grown on the farm today, specifically when the garlic plant is setting its seed stalk. Garlic is one of the primary crops for Woodroof and his team of growers, who produce upwards of 1500 pounds of Organic garlic annually. And be advised that Woodroof will tell you many things about garlic if you allow him the opportunity. Until she passed in 2004, his dog was named Ajo, after the Spanish name for the plant.
In 2010 Woody began increasing the scale of his prints. The new prints on cotton fabric stand 7 feet tall and many of the plants chosen for the image making are considered non-native invasive "weeds". Turning the unwanted plants into beautiful objects of art.
For Woodroof, farming and art are part and parcel of a healthy community. Locally-produced organic food nourishes us, so that we are able to move about in the world, loving and laughing and solving problems. And it is art which anchors us within history and connects us to our mentors and teachers and those friends we've made along the way. Woodroof’s main intention on the surface of these prints is to marry food, environment and art.