Imogen Cunningham, one of the most talented photographers of the 20th century said, “I have a formula for how to make a good photograph… you have to think about it, as a poet would.” This simple statement is an exact description of her photos: Each image exhales poetry.
On March 17th, 2021, the Seattle Art Museum will hold an online lecture on Imogen Cunningham and her work from 5-6PM, part of their “Conversations with Curators” series. Carrie Dedon, the assistant curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, will lead this discussion. This event is a prelude to a larger exhibit on Cunningham that is scheduled to open in November 2021.
Through her 70+ year career, time and place impacted on Cunningham’s choices of subject matter. Portraits and nudes in Seattle. Botanicals in San Francisco. Actors, artists, and dancers in New York.
In all her travels, she documented street life, always applying her personal graphical vision.
Cunningham was born in Portland, Oregon on April 12, 1883. Her family moved shortly after her birth to Seattle. She started photography in 1905 and graduated with honors from University of Washington in 1907.
She was one of the first female photographers to exhibit male and female nudes—one study of her husband, “The Bather’‘, taken on the flanks of Mount Rainier, created a scandal. It took a few decades for those pictures to be printed and exhibited again.
When moving to San Francisco, in 1915, she made stunning botanical photos, for which she is mainly known. They contain echoes of the botanical paintings of her contemporary, Georgia O’Keeffe.
The versatility of her body of work made her a revolutionary photographer. Her pictures were realized with an intense geometric conciseness. She produced abstract portraits by combining multiple negatives to make a single photo and often employed multiple exposure techniques. She transformed human nudes and still lifes of plants into studies of geometric forms.
Cunningham was actively photographing until a few weeks before she passed away at the age of 93. The last few years of her career were dedicated to photographing the beauty and, at times, alienation of aging. This work became a book called “After Ninety” published posthumously.
“Conversations with Curators” are for SAM members. Becoming a member of the Seattle Art Museum, gives you access to great opportunities to see and enjoy art. In these times of visual art deprivation, it feels all the more necessary!
A few links to Imogen Cunningham’s work:
You may learn more about SAM’s “Conversations with Curators” here: