Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1973)
One of the first professional female photographers in America, Imogen Cunningham is considered by many photography collectors and curators as the ‘reigning queen’ of California photography during the first half of the 20th-century.
She is best known for her botanical photography, though she also produced images of nudes, industrial landscapes, and street scenes. After graduating the University of Washington with a degree in chemistry, she studied photographic chemistry in Dresden, Germany. Cunningham returned to the United States to open a portrait studio in Seattle, WA. Along with her portraiture, she produced soft-focus allegorical prints in the tradition of Pictorialism—a style of photography influenced by academic painting from the turn of the 20th-century.
Starting in the early 1920s, she began to take close-up, sharply detailed studies of plant life and other natural forms, including a two-year-long, in-depth study of the magnolia flower. In 1932 she joined an association of West Coast modernist photographers known as f64, rejecting sentimental soft-focus subjects in favor of greater sensuousness.
In the 1930’s Cunningham was invited by Vanity Fair to New York to continue her photographic career. After this assignment, she returned to California and started to work with Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor to document a lumber co-operative, beginning a life-long series of what might now be called street photography.
During the war years (WWII), she opened a permanent studio in San Francisco in her home on Green Street. Cunningham ‘s interest in human subjects ran concurrent with her love of nature and portraiture as she frequently took pictures of the hands of musicians and artists. Edward Weston was a supporter of her work, and she associated at various times with other iconic 20th-century photographers, including Ansel Adams, Bret Weston and Minor White.
Throughout her career, she was awarded numerous awards and was honored with one-woman exhibitions at major museums and institutions throughout the country including the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco and the Los Angeles County Museum. Imogen experimented with Polaroid film. The Library of Congress purchased a collection of her work and the photographic publisher, Aperture, published a monograph of her work. The Smithsonian Institution purchased a major collection of her work.
GALLERY M is pleased to represent this iconic group of vintage and early photographs of Imogen Cunningham. View the collection.