When looking at the photographs of Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), we encounter images that reflect vital developments in 20th century art and photography. Unusual and rare images are presented alongside iconic ones, revealing why this American artist is one of the most important pioneers of photography. Cunningham is recognized for helping to establish photography as an art form. Never tied to one style of photography or subject, she had a signature view in what she created.
Ignited by Pictorialism, Imogen Cunningham incorporated the nude figure and nature when she began photographing as shown here in Self-Portrait, 1906. Sixty years later Child in Landscape, 1966 – on view for the first time-- is another variation dealing with isolation and nature. The body -- even body parts like hands -- remained an essential visual interest of Imogen Cunningham throughout her life. Pfanzenformen, the botanical still-lifes the artist first made in the 1920s are as sensual as her nudes and known as some of the finest examples of Modernist photography. Magnolia Blossom, 1925, an intimate perspective of life, isher most popular image. Re-discovered dramatic landscapes and experimental plant studies like the multiple-exposure, Nine Bowls of Echeveria, 1930s imbue Cunningham’s ongoing interest to address Surrealism from different angles.
Imogen Cunningham supported herself through portrait photography, opening her first studio in 1910. Clients and publications, such as Vanity Fair favored Cunningham’s environmental portrait approach over the more formal studio-style. She was a key figure in circles of exceptional international thinkers including artists, writers, musicians and dancers. Cary Grant, Actor, 1932 typically represents her way of working: the photographer used natural light, an informal background and used the garden’s shadows to her advantage. Experimental and collaborative portraits of Man Ray, Frida Kahlo and Martha Graham are juxtaposed with Cunningham’s observations of other artists or art-scenes. Bernard Catchings, 1967 a rare portrait of the African-American painter was re-discovered with other Haight-Ashbury photographs and urban settings like Art Fair, Hanging Work, 1948.
Consistently probing the medium of photography for new artistic expression, Imogen Cunningham worked for over seventy years. Her photographs are seductive and dynamic, inspired by a multitude of sources, making her one of the most experimental photographers in her lifetime. Hand and Leaf of Voodoo Lily, 1972, photographed when Cunningham was 89 is an accumulative statement as so many of her photographs were. It displays one of nature’s most peculiar plants with stunning and very strong characteristics and acts as a self-portrait. Her hand, like a white-gloved magician, is a gesture of astonishment, not only about what has happened, but what will be. The unseen for Imogen Cunningham was eternally as important as the familiar.
-- Celina Lunsford
SEEN AND UNSEEN: PHOTOGRAPHS FROM IMOGEN CUNNINGHAM consists of silver gelatin prints from the Imogen Cunningham Trust including photographs printed by Rondal Partridge (1917-2015), Imogen Cunningham’s son. The curatorial choice was made by Celina Lunsford, author of Imogen Cunningham, TF Editores / Kehrer Publishing, Madrid/Heidelberg, 2012. The exhibition is a production by Meg Partridge, Director of the Imogen Cunningham Trust, and Photographic Traveling Exhibitions.