Okay, I know it isn’t polite to tell a woman’s age, but today is Imogen Cunningham’s 135th birthday. In case you are not familiar with Cunningham, she was an American photographer. I’m going to give you a minute for this all to soak in before we move along. Female. Photographer. Early 1900’s. This is huge I tell ya! So, I think we should devote a little virtual real estate to celebrate all things Imogen Cunningham today. Are you with me?
I think I might have enjoyed meeting, conversing with, and, perhaps learning from Ms. Cunningham. She was quite the pioneer with an admirable work ethic. Cunningham bought her first camera when she was 18 years old and taught herself about photography. In college, there were no art classes, so she pursued a degree in chemistry (her thesis was “Modern Processes of Photography“). In college, she earned tuition making photographs/lantern slides for the botany department. After graduation, she spent some time working in the studio of Edward Curtis. (HERE are links to posts I wrote about Curtis if you are not familiar with him or his work.)
In 1909, Cunningham was awarded a grant which allowed her to study abroad. Her studies included finding a less expensive alternative for the platinum used for photographic printing. It seems that platinum was rather hard to come by due to World War I, so, I am sure her research and paper were well received. I’ve already shared my fondness for the intersection of art and science, and Cunningham was the poster girl.
While she was considered a top-notch printer (probably in no small part to her
chemistry background), her artisticphotographs were also recognized. In fact, her photography and printing skills impressed the likes of Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange.
Her accomplishments are a testament to her talent, knowledge, and work ethic. She was one of the founding members of Group f/64, and she was tapped by Ansel Adams to accept a faculty position at the California School of Fine Arts. Cunningham continued her photographic journey well into later life. Most accounts indicate that she continued photographing almost until her death at age 93.
Happy birthday Ms. Cunningham! Thanks for the platinum prints.