Friday, July 08, 2005

Imogen Cunningham, Photographer: 1883-1976

Photo by Howard Dratch. Similar to a Cunningham (not as good) but no copyright problems.
A grand old photographer of the feminine persuasion.
Cunningham began and enjoyed a life as a portrait photographer. She was most inlfuenced by Gerturde Kasebier who, I think, she quickly eclipsed. The marriage to a tactile artist, the potter, Roi Partridge, lasted until 1947. Of him she left some wonderful portraits of strong hands at work in the clay.

She worked with her strong determination and will until a ripe age. One of her last books celebrates age in a way it is not usually seen. Beyond Ninety was her study, her series of interview, dead on photos of people who were beyond ninety and, like her, continued to give and think and crae. The photo that always sticks so tenaciously to my mind is the portrait of her father, past ninety, with his long beard from another time, sitting on the huge pile of firewood he had cut and split to prepare for another winter.

"An old lady", you say. OK, she grew to be one because that is what happens to young women who survive to old age. Some do. Few thrive and pulse with creativity and continue to advance with modern pictures presented in new ways until the end. Another picture that always haunts me in Cunningham in a self-portrait in a shop's mirror in the manner of Winogrand or Szarkowski but so much older. The scene seems so familiar a part of the last quarter or the 20th century but the subject is a little old lady holding her well-used Rolleiflex and facing the viewer directly, facing herself, confronting the years that had slipped away and accepted them with some equanimity. It is a great shot.

There are also the flowers. They are another theme of hers that, since I also love to climb into their reproductive organs and look into their intense color and shape. I add one of mine which is decidedly NOT a Cunningham but it gives you the genre and does not infringe on anyone's copyright.

Her body of work, portraits, flowers, some nudes, even street shooting lasted more than 60 years. She used those years to hone her skills and to keep learning to see better and better.
To view or buy copies of her work go to The Imogen Cunningham Trust at Imogen Cunningham

There is a quick, brief but interesting biography at Bio.

For the younger photographers surrounded by digital cameras, memory cards and sticks and flash cards; she may seem from another world. But, the world is only different in media -- film and silver and early color versus Photoshopped, digitally printed images that can be viewed on screens and shown to millions , transferred across the globe in seconds (or is it nanoseconds?), desk-top published and conserved on DVDs and CDs. The technology changed.

The ability to see well has not. Cunningham's pictures are hers, are unique both in vision and time and pass the test --they still please the viewer so many years later.