April Dawn Alison

April Dawn Alison holding photos

While cruising through SFMoma, my companion and I stumbled on the dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroids) of April Dawn Alison.

The exhibition drew from over 9200 photographs of April, taken by herself, or, very probably, a photographer named Alan Schaefer. Schaefer worked as a commercial photographer, and doesn’t seem to ever have had any gallery shows or exhibits. According to his friends and neighbors, he loved playing tennis, jazz records and was known simply as ‘Al’. 

No one knew that Al was also April. And no one had seen these photos until after his death in 2008. This collection was donated in 2017 to SFMOMA by painter and collector Andrew Masullo.

April Dawn Alison and her stats

Al and April lived in Oakland, California, and April’s world seems to be completely contained in Al’s apartment.

April Dawn Alison's legs
April Dawn Alison as a maid
April Dawn Alison in various states of undress
April Dawn Alison in a poodle skirt

There are many, many photos in the exhibit – I’m only sharing a handful here.

There is a joy in the photos I saw, which are beautiful, hilarious, enigmatic, and heartbreakingly sad. The work span more than three decades, beginning in the early 1970s, and then developing during the 80s into an exuberant, wildly colorful, and obsessive practice inspired by representations of women in classic film, fetish photography and advertising.

I wonder – did Al want these photos to be found? Would April want them to have been seen by the world? If they had it all over to do again, would April (And Al) have been happier and fulfilled if they had the chance to “go public” while they were alive?

There is a catalog on Amazon from the show, if you are interested.

Catalog from SFMOMA'S April Dawn Alison collection.