1883, Portland, Oregon
1976, San Francisco, Bay Area
Cunningham on her most iconic images
Imogen Cunningham fixed her sharp-focus camera lens on the geometries and patterns of the world around her—pairs of hands, a nude figure, the leaves of an agave plant. But the images she is perhaps best known for are her photographs of flowers:
And, of course, the Magnolia flower, the most common plant, the most common job I ever did, is still on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. And if ever they sell a print, that’s what they sell.
Cunningham, a mother of three, made a living taking portraits. In the 1930s, Vanity Fair magazine sent her to Hollywood, where she photographed Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, and other stars of the day. These encounters with the rich and famous were a far cry from her humble beginnings:
I’d made up my mind that I wanted to be a photographer. So I saved my money, whatever little it was—and it was 15 dollars, to tell you the truth—and sent it to the Correspondence School in Scranton, Pennsylvania. And they sent me a 4-by-5 camera and a box of glass plates. And I started on my own. That was 1901.
At the turn of the century, there were few professional woman photographers. But Cunningham was never one for convention. Her life spanned many generations; she wrote Photography as a Profession for Women in 1913 and then found herself mentoring young feminist photographers in the 1970s as they, too, struggled to find acceptance in the field.
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