Imogen Cunningham’s retrospective highlights her profound contributions to photography
One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) enjoyed a career that spanned three-quarters of a century, creating vast and diverse work that highlighted her vision, versatility, and commitment to the way.
The first major retrospective in the United States for more than 35 years, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective brings together his insightful portraits, elegant studies of flowers and plants, poignant street images and groundbreaking nudes in a visual celebration of Cunningham’s enormous contributions to the history of photography.
“Despite Cunningham’s outstanding achievements as a photographic artist, his work has not received the attention accorded to his male counterparts,” says Timothy Potts, director of Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle of the J. Paul Getty Museum .
“Although she struggled to meet the demands of her family and her career, she emerged in the second half of the 1920s as one of America’s most important and innovative modernist photographers, collaborating with leading practitioners, mentoring novices and actively engaging in contemporary controversies in modern art.This exhibition and publication will highlight her contribution to 20th century photography which she so deserves.
Cunningham was initially self-taught, learning the basics of photography from the instructions that came with his first camera. After graduating from the University of Washington, she set up a portrait studio in Seattle and began doing out-of-focus photography. His work from this period was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and literature. In 1915 Cunningham married and started a family. After moving her family to San Francisco in 1917, she turned away from blurry images and began to make a series of well-delineated botanical studies.
In 1932, Cunningham, along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston, all San Francisco Bay Area photographers, helped found the f/64 group. This loosely formed association promoted a modernist style through highly focused images created with a West Coast perspective and sense of place.
Beginning in the mid-1940s, Cunningham could often be seen wandering the streets of San Francisco with her Rolleiflex, taking environmental portraits of the city’s inhabitants. His enlightened attitude about his place in the world extended to his relationships with people of different racial backgrounds and sexual orientations, which broke down social barriers while enriching and diversifying his work. Cunningham’s last major project, a series of portraits of the elderly, was started at age 92 and published posthumously in the book After Nineties: Imogen Cunningham in 1977. The project reflected her determination to stay active and provided a way to come to terms with being in her nineties herself.
Cunningham was a woman of exceptional intelligence and talent, but competing in a male-dominated profession was a formidable challenge. She felt belittled by some of her male colleagues, who sometimes downplayed her talent and influence. As a bulwark against stress, she joined San Francisco Women Artists, a group organized to promote, support, and expand the representation of women in the arts. Over the years, Cunningham has served as a resource for female artists such as Laura Andreson, Ruth Asawa, Alma Lavenson, Laura Gilpin, Dorothea Lange, Consuelo Kanaga and Merry Renk, among others, providing advice, moral support and connections. essential throughout the art. and the worlds of business.
“Cunningham continually sought out new opportunities to grow, learn and change as an artist and as a person,” says Paul Martineau, curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibit. “She readily admitted that she was never fully satisfied with anything and considered self-improvement, in all its forms, her life’s work.”
Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective is organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and curated by Photographs Associate Curator Paul Martineau. Major support from Jordan Schnitzer and the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation. The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated companion book, Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective.