Imogen Cunningham – Capturing Spirit


Imogen Cunningham, Self portrait 1913, copyright of the Imogen Cunningham Trust,  courtesy of Cavallo Point Lodge

In 2008 Cavallo Point Lodge published their photobook on Imogen Cunningham (b. 1883 – d. 1976), titled Capturing Spirit in conjunction with their exhibition of her photographs, titled Celebrating Imogen. I was not aware of any Cunningham books that had been published recently, and subsequently found out that the last one was the Taschen’s publication of Imogen Cunningham in 2001, with 176 photographic plates, edited by Heiting with another essay by Richard Lorenz. I have not seen the Traschen book, but from what I have heard from others, it’s a huge and beautifully printed book.

Thus I was really interested in what the Cavallo Point Lodge was going create about her in their on-going series of photobooks. The resulting book was developed by Anne Veh, the Cavallo Point Lodge curator, in conjunction with the Imogen Cunningham Trust, led by Meg Partridge, Imogen’s granddaughter and with Linda Connor.

The book is a delightful mix of her iconic photographs and images that you may have not seen before. Her early photographic work included Pictorialism in the 1910’s, becoming a founder member in 1932 of the f/64 group, a staff photographer for Vanity Fair in NYC and finally back in San Francisco in 1945 working on her own photographs while on the faculty of the California School of Fine Arts, initially with Adams, Weston, White and Lange.

The book progresses more or less chronologically through her career, but occasionally pairs up images that were of a similar style, such as a print in the negative or a multiple exposure made in the 1920’s with a similar stylistic image made in the 1950’s or 1960’s. These combinations provide some insight about her on-going technical processing experimentation to explore the capabilities of this medium. Regardless of her theme, she was interested in studying form, shape and space. She is sometimes unjustly pigeon-holed with the label of a straight photographer due to her association with the f/64 group.

There were early themes that she had repeatedly returned to over the years of her career; the nude and human form, botany and portraits. As a young woman, Imogen Cunningham’s nude photograph of her husband Roi Partridge became one of the earliest known photographs of a nude male made by a woman, circa 1915 in the history of the photographic medium.

Included in the book are the iconic photograph of her grandfather sitting on a pile of cut wood, the portrait of Edward Weston with his many cats, portrait of Alfred Stieglitz from 1934 in his NYC gallery, the portrait of Frida Kahlo as a young woman in 1931, the image Phoenix Recumbent made in 1968, the Unmade Bed in 1957 and her Magnolia Blooms in the 1920’s that for me rival the paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe.

As noted by Anne Veh, the Cavallo Point Lodge curator for this exhibit:

Imogen’s book is a selection of very special images rather than a retrospective, as the images were carefully chosen by the Imogen Cunningham Trust with input from our dear friend Linda Connor.  Some of the images have rarely been seen or published.  There hasn’t been a book published on Imogen for many years and I believe all of Imogen’s books written by Richard Lorenz are out of print.  This makes the Cavallo Point book very special.

This little book is a delightful collection of Cunningham photographs, an iconic San Francisco Bay photographer.

Note: The Imogen Cunningham photographic exhibition dates for “Celebrating Imogen” at the Cavallo Point Lodge are May, 2008 – January 2011, curated by Anne Veh and in conjunction with the Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Magnolia_Blossom_Tower_of_Jewels_1925 Magnolia_Blossom_1925

Phoenix_Recumbent_1968 The_Unmade_Bed_1957

Edward_Weston_with_His_Cats_1945 Frida_Kahlo_Rivera_1931

My_Father_at_Ninety_1936 Aikos_Hands_1971

By Douglas Stockdale

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