Laura McPhee was born in Manhattan and grew up in central New Jersey. She earned her BA from Princeton University and an MFA from Rhode Island School of Design, and is currently a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She lives in Brookline, MA.
McPhee works across a variety of genres, from portraits to landscapes, still life to interiors. Most often, her work has concerned place and the way we see ourselves in regard to the land, whether in New Jersey, Calcutta, France, or the American west. Her large-scale photographs provoke questions about our attitudes and beliefs about the earth we inhabit, questions sometimes environmental, sometimes cultural or geographical. On River of No Return, a series of photographs taken over several years on successive visits to the Sawtooth Valley, Idaho, Robert Hass has written: “River of No Return is organized like a long poem or a piece of music.” It is, he continued, “a stunning look at an actual place, a meditation on rivers, nature, history, the history of landscape photography, of the American West and the idea of the American West.” River of No Return was the subject of a solo exhibition at Kansas City’s Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in 2013.
McPhee’s work has been widely exhibited both in the United States and abroad, and she is the recipient of a number of grants and residencies, including a Fulbright Scholars Fellowship in 1998 for work in India and Sri Lanka, and in 2003-05 a residency in Idaho from Alturas Foundation. She was also awarded, in 1995, a New England Foundation for the Arts fellowship, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 1993. Her exhibition River of No Return was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 2006; a monograph of the same title was published by Yale in 2008. Her first book, No Ordinary Land (in collaboration with Virginia Beahan) was published by Aperture in 1998. A book about Calcutta, The Home and the World, is forthcoming with Yale University Press.
Her photographs are included in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.