I can’t help but fall in love with quirky elderly people, especially quirky people who live and create as fully as they are able right up until they leave the world.
Imogen Cunningham was one of those people. She only became known outside art circles when she was well beyond what most people see as her prime. She was a photographer since she was eighteen-years-old in 1901.
She did the conventional things: she married and had children. Her husband, Roi, taught at Mills College in Oakland, California. She spent much of her time in her backyard with her sons and hergarden and her camera. She photographed nature in a way that reminds me of Georgia O'Keefe's paintings. While her plant photos appeared in scientific journals, she took the photos not as a scientist, but as an artist.
Later she was increasingly fascinated by the human body, photographing nudes and creating a body of work unequaled at the time. Her portrait work was also praised highly.
In 1932 she joined her photographer friends and colleagues in Group f.64 (she called it a show, not a group) which included Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke, and Sonya Noskowiak among others.
She was a rebel in relationships, too. She left Roi in Oakland when she went to New York to work for Vanity Fair in the 1930’s. They later got divorced.
She would not stop photographing people, especially portraits, though never run of the mill, never the expected, focused consistently on texture and natural light.
When on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson shortly before she died, she wears a fetching outfit that includes a wide purple headband over her short, white hair along with a matching shift and a large peace sign necklace.
She was her own woman, always, first and foremost.
When she was in her 90’s, she took portraits of other people in their 90’s. They are not smiling, they are just being themselves caught with normal expressions in natural light. In other words, they are unforgettable.
Christina Berding said of her, “When you’ve been photographed by Imogen Cunningham, you haven’t just had a sitting, you’ve had an experience.”
I wish I could have met her.
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© 2013 by Julie Jordan Scott
This post was written as a part of a challenge from the Biannual Blogathon Bash. Our instructions were to "drop everything and write a blog post" so I grabbed some notes from research I did a few days ago, did some fact finding and am so pleased to have gotten to know Ms. Imogen Cunningham better than I have before. Perhaps this is your first time "meeting" her, also.