Imogen Cunningham (photographer)

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2015-06-26 11:04:14

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Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) was an American photographer.

Life and career

Cunningham bought her first camera at the age of 18 in 1901, a 4x5” view camera. However, she lost interest until 1906, when inspired by Gertrude Kasebier, she took up a camera again and learnt to develop, gaining experience of the chemistry behind photography. She subsidised her university tuition fees photographing plants for the botany department.

Graduating a year later, Cunningham went to work for Edward Curtis in Seattle. She later opened her own studio, and won acclaim for her portraits, becoming sought after as a photographer.

She became more and more interested in revisiting botanical photography, and her 1923-25 study of the magnolia flower is unparalleled. She then also became interested in capturing industry and industrial landscapes. Her series of nude photographs of her husband Roi Partridge were also acclaimed.

It is for her botanical photographs, her nudes, and industrial landscapes that Cunningham is known and admired.

Edward Weston nominated 10 of Cunningham’s photographs for inclusion in an exhibition entitled Film und Foto. She later became fascinated with the human form, in particular, hands. She did work for Vanity Fair, and also some documentary street photography. Having explored many areas of photography successfully, including influencing methods of development, Cunningham died aged 93 in 1976.

Celebrated Photographs

  • Magnolia Blossom (1925)
  • Two Callas (1928)
  • Frida Kahlo Rivera (1931)
  • Portrait of Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston (1922)

Notable sales

  • Nude (1932), sold for $23,900 at Sotheby’s in October 2002
  • Frida Kahlo Rivera (1931) sold for $22,500 at Christie’s in October 2008, and for $35,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company in April 2006.
  • Calla with Leaf (1932), sold for $58,250 at Sotheby’s in April 2001
  • Tower of Jewels (1925), sold for $67,200 at Sotheby’s in April 2003
  • Banana Plant (1929), sold for $73,000 at Sotheby’s in April 2008
  • Two Callas (1928), sold for $144,000 at Sotheby’s in October 2005
  • Mills College Amphitheatre (1920) sold for $209,600 at Sotheby’s in October 2004
  • Triangles (1928), sold for $178,500 at Christie’s in April 1997
  • Magnolia Blossom (1925), sold at Sotheby’s for $144,000 in October 2005, and at Christie’s for $70,700 in October 1995, $120,000 in April 2006, $156,500 in April 1999, and $242,500 in April 2010

Did you know?

Cunningham wrote her thesis on the process of platinum printing, and became very skilled at perfecting it. She experimented and perfected methods of clearer and faster development of photographs, with particular emphasis on sepia tones.

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