|**Imogen Cunningham was born on April 12,
1883, in Portland, Oregon. She began taking photographs in 1901, when she
enrolled in a correspondence course in photography while she was a student
at the University of Washington.
Her career began with a part time job in the Seattle studio of Edward
S. Curtis, more famous for his remarkable documentation of the North American
Indian than for the portrait work from which he made his living. There
she learned to make platinum prints in both quantity and quality. Her
earliest prints were in the tradition of Romantic Pictorialism,
a style of photography that imitated academic painting of the turn of
She won a scholarship for foreign study and attended photographic courses at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden Germany, in 1909. The school had recently revived its photographic department under the direction of Robert Luther, a photo scientist of international fame. While abroad she visited Alvin Langdon Coburn in London and upon her return to America in 1910, Alfred Stieglitz. From both she gained great inspiration.
After studying photographic chemistry in Dresden, she opened a portrait gallery in Seattle, Washington, and soon established a national reputation. A portfolio of these pictures was published in Wilson’s Photographic Magazine in March, 1914. There she stated a philosophy which has guided her ever since: "One must be able to gain an understanding at short notice and close range of the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit so as to be able to draw out the best qualities and make them show in the outer aspect of the sitter. To do this one must not have a too pronounced notion of what constitutes beauty in the external and, above all, must not worship it. To worship beauty for its own sake is narrow, and one surely cannot derive from it that esthetic pleasure which comes from finding beauty in the commonest things."
After her marriage, she moved to San Francisco. There she became a friend of Edward Weston; through his recommendation, 10 of her plant photographs were included in the "Film und Foto" exhibition (1929), sponsored by the Deutsche Werkbund, an association of German designers and architects. All of these prints are now part of the George Eastman House Collection.
In 1932 Cunningham joined the association of West Coast photographers which had been founded by Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke in 1934 under the name of Group f/64. They met to talk about photography and to show their prints to each other and to the public. In the fall of 1932, Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke proposed that they become better organized to implement the spread of their ideas, and Van Dyke suggested the name "f/64," it was chosen because the members of the group were dedicated to the honest, sharply defined image, and the lens opening, f/64, provides the ultimate in resolution and depth of field. Adams felt that the membership should be limited to "those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by a simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods." Like other members of the group, she rejected the soft-focused photography then popular in favour of sharply focused prints, such as "Two Callas" (c. 1929), that conveyed a sensuous delight in nature.
the breakup of Group f/64, Cunningham ran a portrait gallery and
taught at the San Francisco Art Institute. A retrospective monograph,
Imogen! Imogen Cunningham Photographs, 1910-1973, appeared in 1974,
and her final photographs were published in After Ninety in 1977.
She died on June 24th, 1976 in San Francisco.
Article includes sections from "Imogen Cunningham,"