Imogen Cunningham

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Imogen Cunningham
Imogen Cunningham, cropped from the photograph Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite, 1974, by Judy Dater
Born (1883-04-12)April 12, 1883
Portland, Oregon US
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
San Francisco, California US
Nationality American
Education University of Washington
Notable work Magnolia Blossom (1925)
Triangles (1928)
Spouse(s) Roi Partridge (1915-1934)

Imogen Cunningham (April 12, 1883 – June 23, 1976) was an American photographer known for her botanical photography, nudes, and industrial landscapes. Cunningham was a member of the California-based Group f/64, known for its dedication to the sharp-focus rendition of simple subjects.[1]

Early life

Cunningham was born in Portland, Oregon to father Isaac Burns Cunningham[2] and mother Susan Elizabeth Cunningham (née Johnson).[3][4][5][6] Her parents were from Missouri, though both of their families originally came from Virginia.[4] Cunningham was the fifth of 10 children.

Cunningham grew up in Seattle, Washington. She attended the Denny School at 5th and Battery Streets in Seattle.[7]

In 1901, at the age of eighteen, Cunningham bought her first camera, a 4x5 inch view camera, via mail order from the American School of Art in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She soon lost interest and sold the camera to a friend.

It wasn't until 1906, while studying at the University of Washington in Seattle, that she was inspired to take up photography again by an encounter with the work of Gertrude Käsebier. With the help of her chemistry professor, Horace Byers, she began to study the chemistry behind photography and she subsidized her tuition by photographing plants for the botany department.

In 1907, Cunningham graduated from University of Washington with a degree in chemistry. Her thesis was titled “Modern Processes of Photography.”


After graduating from college in 1907, Cunningham went to work for Edward S. Curtis in his Seattle studio, gaining knowledge about the portrait business and practical photography.


In 1909, Cunningham won a fellowship for foreign study from her University of Washington sorority (Pi Beta Phi). Using this fellowship, Cunningham traveled to Germany[8] to study with Professor Robert Luther at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden, Germany. In Dresden she concentrated on her studies and didn't take many photographs. In May 1910, she finished her paper, "About the Direct Development of Platinum Paper for Brown Tones", describing her process to increase printing speed, improve clarity of highlights tones, and produce sepia tones.

On her way back to Seattle she met Alvin Langdon Coburn in London, and Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude Käsebier in New York.

Dream, a 1910 photograph by Imogen Cunningham


In Seattle, Cunningham opened a studio and won acclaim for portraiture and pictorial work. Most of her studio work of this time consisted of sitters in their own homes, in her living room, or in the woods surrounding Cunningham's cottage. She became a sought after photographer and exhibited at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1913.

In 1914, Cunningham's portraits were shown at An International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography in New York. Wilson's Photographic Magazine published a portfolio of her work.

The next year, she married Roi Partridge, a teacher and artist. He posed for a series of nude photographs, which were shown by the Seattle Fine Arts Society. Although critically praised, Cunningham didn't revisit those photographs for another fifty-five years. Between 1915 and 1920, Cunningham continued her work and had three children (Gryffyd, Rondal, who also became a photographer, and Padraic) with Partridge.


In 1920, the family moved to San Francisco where Partridge taught at Mills College.[9]

Cunningham refined her style, taking a greater interest in pattern and detail and becoming increasingly interested in botanical photography, especially flowers. Between 1923 and 1925 she carried out an in-depth study of the Magnolia flower. Later in the decade she turned her attention toward industry, creating several series of industrial landscapes in Los Angeles and Oakland.

In 1929, Edward Weston nominated 10 of Cunningham's photographs (8 botanical, 1 industrial, and 1 nude) for inclusion in the "Film und Foto" exhibition and her renowned, Two Callas, debuted in that exhibition.

Cunningham once again changed direction, becoming more interested in the human form, particularly hands, and she was fascinated with the hands of artists and musicians. This interest led to her employment by Vanity Fair, photographing stars without make-up.

a botanical photograph of a succulent plant by Imogen Cunningham

Group f/64

In 1932, Cunningham co-founded the Group f/64, which was named for a large-format camera’s smallest aperture setting.[9] The group included Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston.

In an effort to address both financial and artistic concerns, the Group f/64 decided to mount an exhibition.[10] The loose-knit collective only had a single show, in 1932, at the De Young museum in San Francisco.[1] They published a manifesto at the exhibition.

Vanity Fair

In 1934, Cunningham was invited to do some work in New York for Vanity Fair. Her husband wanted her to wait until he could travel with her, but she refused. They divorced that year. She continued with Vanity Fair until it stopped publication in 1936.

Later career

Street photography

In the 1940s, Cunningham turned to documentary street photography, which she executed as a side project while supporting herself with her commercial and studio photography. In 1945, Cunningham was invited by Ansel Adams to accept a position as a faculty member for the art photography department at the California School of Fine Arts. Dorothea Lange and Minor White joined as well.


In 1964, Imogen Cunningham met the photographer Judy Dater while leading a workshop focusing on the life and work of Edward Weston in Big Sur Hot Springs, California which later became the Esalen Institute. Dater was greatly inspired by Cunningham's life and work. Cunningham is featured in one of Dater’s most popular photographs Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite, which depicts depicts elderly Cunningham encountering nude model Twinka Thiebaud behind a tree in Yosemite National Park. The two shared an interest in portraiture and remained friends until Cunningham's death in 1976. Three years later, Dater published Imogen Cunningham: A Portrait, containing interviews with many of Cunningham's photographic contemporaries, friends, and family along with photographs by both Dater and Cunningham.

In 1973, her work was exhibited at the Rencontres d'Arles photography festival in France through the group exhibition: Trois photographes américaines, Imogen Cunningham, Linda Connor, Judy Dater.


Personal life

In 1915, Cunningham married etching artist, printmaker and teacher Roi Partridge. They had three sons: Gryffyd Partridge and twins Rondal Partridge and Padriac Partridge.[15][16] The couple divorced in 1934. Rondal's daughter, Meg Partridge, cataloged Cunningham's work.[17]

As of 1940, Cunningham lived in Oakland, California,[18] though she had studios in various locations in San Francisco.

Cunningham continued to take photographs until shortly before her death at age 93 on June 23, 1976, in San Francisco, California.[19][20]

Cunningham was named Imogen after the heroine of Shakespeare's Cymbeline.[21]

Works and publications


chronological by date of publication

  • Cunningham, Imogen. Modern Processes of Photography. Thesis, University of Washington, 1907. OCLC 12295089
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Richard Lorenz. Imogen Cunningham: Portraiture. Boston: Little, Brown and Co, 1997. ISBN 978-0-821-22437-3 OCLC 38157997
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Richard Lorenz. Imogen Cunningham: On the Body. Boston: Bullfinch Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-821-22438-0 OCLC 40220514
  • Cunningham, Imogen, Richard Lorenz, and Manfred Heiting. Imogen Cunningham, 1883-1976. Köln: Taschen, 2001. ISBN 978-3-822-87182-9 OCLC 47892628
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Richard Lorenz. Imogen Cunningham: Flora. 2001. ISBN 978-0-821-22731-2 OCLC 47784515
  • Cunningham, Imogen, Meg Partridge, John Wood, Elizabeth Partridge, Rondal Partridge, John Marcy, Pam Clark, and Crissy Welzen. Imogen Cunningham: Platinum and Palladium. South Dennis, Mass.: 21st Editions, Steven Albahari, 2012. OCLC 855783549[22]
  • Cunningham, Imogen, William Morris, John Wood, Pam Clark, Crissy Welzen, Sam Klimek, Arthur Larson, Sarah Creighton, and Steven Albahari. Imogen Cunningham: Symbolist ; with Poetry and Prose by William Morris. South Dennis, Mass.: 21st Editions, Steven Albahari, 2013. OCLC 868338137[23]

Exhibition catalogs

chronological by date of exhibition

  • Cunningham, Imogen. Imogen Cunningham: Photographs 1921-1967. Stanford, Calif.: Leland Stanford Junior University, 1967. OCLC 2944896
    • Exhibition held 31 March to 23 April 1967, Stanford Art Gallery, Leland Stanford Junior University.
  • Massar, Phyllis Dearborn, and Imogen Cunningham. Photographs by Imogen Cunningham. New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. OCLC 23797397 and 893700782
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Margery Mann. Imogen!: Imogen Cunningham Photographs, 1910-1973. 1974. ISBN 978-0-295-95332-8 OCLC 828338
    • Published in connection with an exhibition shown at the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, March 23-April 21, 1974
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Richard Lorenz. Imogen Cunningham: Frontiers : Photographs 1906-1976. Berkeley, Calif: The Trust, 1978. OCLC 20410345
    • An exhibition organized by the Imogen Cunningham Trust in 1978 ; essay by Richard Lorenz.
  • Cunningham, Imogen. The Photography of Imogen Cunningham: A Centennial Selection. New York, N.Y.: The Museum, 1985. OCLC 84612868
    • Centennial celebration at Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, December 13, 1985 – January 30, 1986.
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Richard Lorenz. Imogen Cunningham: MEJE fotografieje 1906-1976. Ljubljana: Moderna Galerija, 1987. OCLC 123406725
    • Exhibition "Imogen Cunningham" held at the Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana, March 10–31, 1987. In Slovenian.
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Richard Lorenz. Imogen Cunningham: frontiers : fotografie 1906-1976. Roma: U.S.I.S., 1987. OCLC 35835030
    • Exhibition held at Villa Croce, Genova, Oct. 28-Nov. 22, 1987.
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Richard Lorenz. Imogen Cunningham: fronteras, fotografías, 1906-1976. [Madrid]: [Círculo de Bellas Artes], 1988. OCLC 45036528
    • Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, 26 de enero al 28 de febrero de 1988. Exposición organizada por the Imogen Cunningham Trust, Berkeley, California, Círculo de Bellas Artes, Embajada de los Estados Unidos ; ensayo de R. Lorenz.
  • Heyman, Therese Thau, Mary Street Alinder, and Naomi Rosenblum. Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography. Oakland, Calif: Oakland Museum, 1992. ISBN 978-0-295-97219-0 OCLC 26907957
    • Published to coincide with a major traveling exhibition, organized by the Oakland Museum in 1992, which re-creates the original 1932 exhibition by Group f.64.
  • Cunningham, Imogen. Imogen Cunningham: die Poesie der Form. Schaffhausen: Edition Stemmle, 1993. ISBN 978-3-905-51407-0 OCLC 29687447
    • Catalog of an exhibition held August 28 through October 3, 1993 at the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt. German and English.
  • San Francisco Camerawork, and Alliance français de San Francisco. Imogen Cunningham: Paris in the Sixties = Imogen Cunningham : Paris Dans Les Années Soixante. San Francisco: Alliance français de San Francisco, 1993. OCLC 80832977
    • Catalogue of a traveling exhibition held in San Francisco, Oct. 14-Nov. 10, 1993, organized by San Francisco Camerawork and the Alliance français de San Francisco. English and French. Venues in the United States: Denver, Atlanta, and Boston ; venues in France: Arles, Paris.
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Richard Lorenz. Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective Exhibition, September 15-November 4, 1995, Howard Greenberg Gallery. New York (120 Wooster St. 10012): Howard Greenberg Gallery, 1995. OCLC 60806856
    • Exhibition held Sept. 15 - Nov. 4, 1995. Organized by Richard Lorenz in association with the Imogen Cunningham Trust.
  • Cunningham, Imogen. Imogen Cunningham: Vintage Photographs 1910-1973. New York: John Stevenson Gallery, 2006. OCLC 74329609
    • Exhibition catalog: September 2006. Includes CD-ROM.
  • Cunningham, Imogen. Imogen Cunningham. Santa Barbara CA: East West Gallery, 2007. OCLC 417028856
    • Catalog of an exhibition titled "Paired: Imogen Cunningham and Rondal Partridge, featuring works by Horace Bristol", held at East West Gallery, Santa Barbara, Oct. 5, 2007 to Jan. 5, 2008.
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Mónica Fuentes Santos. Imogen Cunningham. 2012. ISBN 978-1-938-92206-0 OCLC 827930432
    • Published in conjunction with an exhibition held at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid, Spain, September 2012-January 2013, and Kulturhuset, Stockholm, May–September 2013

Films, videos

  • Padula, Fred. Two Photographers: Wynn Bullock and Imogen Cunningham. Fred Padula, 1967. OCLC 22168652
  • Korty, John. Imogen Cunningham, Photographer. John Korty, 1972. OCLC 5550648
  • Cunningham, Imogen, Ann Hershey, and Shera Thompson. Never give up--Imogen Cunningham. New Brunswick, NJ: Phoenix/BFA Films & Video, 1975. OCLC 13289877
    • Features an interview with and autobiographical study of Imogen Cunningham and her photographic work of over 70 years.
  • Cunningham, Imogen. Imogen Cunningham at 93. New York: Carousel Films, 1976. Producer, CBS News. OCLC 41486099, 145733485 and 317634694
  • Cunningham, Imogen, and Meg Partridge. Portrait of Imogen. Valley Ford, CA: Distributed by Pacific Pictures, 1987. OCLC 24305007
    • Photographer Imogen Cunningham presents more than 250 of her own photographs through informal recorded interviews when she was in her late eighties.

See also

Notes and references

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Further reading

External links