REMEMBERING IMOGEN CUNNINGHAM

“Ansel [Adams] once said to somebody that I [Cunningham] was versatile, but what he really meant was that I jump around. I’m never satisfied staying in one spot very long, I couldn’t stay with the mountains and I couldn’t stay with the trees and I couldn’t stay with the rivers. But I can always stay with people, because they really are different.”
⁓ Imogen Cunningham, Dialogue With Photography by Paul Hill

On this day, in 1976, the world lost a very important figure in photography, Imogen Cunningham.

In an amazing career that spanned nearly 70 years she worked in almost every area of photography, and her imagery explored a broad range of photographic styles, from early Pictorialism, architectural landscapes, modern portraits, nude studies, botanicals, and later social documentary or street photography.
 

Bowed stump in the Mount Baker forest.

“Bowed.” Photo © Jane Alynn.

My admiration runs deep for Imogen Cunningham. I wish I’d known her as my husband did. But I had a close encounter. When my husband and I were in San Francisco he wanted to find the house where she lived when he had visited her. We followed a vague recollection and by some miracle happened upon it. There was no structure left, but in the middle of the lot we found a bold and prickly plant — an Acanthus — thriving among the overgrown weeds. Ironically, this plant symbolizes immortality in Mediterranean countries. Its architectural leaves surely were considered as subjects for her botanical images.

We took a cutting, and carefully packed it in an empty cup along with some of her soil. Once we were back home and got it in the ground, we named it Imogen.

Cunningham was fiercely independent and achieved what was nearly unimaginable for a woman of the 1900s. For her, gender barriers didn’t exit. She photographed whatever caught her imagination.

Photographer and writer friend Steve Meltzer, in “A Woman’s Eye: How Imogen Cunningham broke through gender barriers to help redefine modern photography,” writes: “She photographed the world with a woman’s eye, from a viewpoint far different than that of the male dominated photographic world of her time and ours. Cunningham was a true original and an essential part of the development of modern photography in America. And all her life she fought against a glass (plate) ceiling and she never gave up.”

Ancient bristlecone pine in the White Mountains, CA

Ancient bristlecone pine in the White Mountains, CA. Photo © Jane Alynn

To see archives of Imogen’s wonderful photographs, visit the Imogen Cunningham Trust archive.

“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” ⁓ Imogen Cunningham, Interviews With Master Photographers : Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Cornell Capa, Elliott Erwitt, Yousuf Karsh, Arnold Newman, Lord Snowdon, Brett Weston by James Danziger

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