Imogen Cunningham Biography

Imogen Cunningham




Imogen Cunningham was born in Portland, OR, in 1883. Her father encouraged her artistic leanings from an early age and she began art lessons before entering grade school. She attended the University of Washington with a focus on chemistry, after being advised by her professor that it would be important in her studies of photography.

She began her own studies of photography via correspondence in 1905, and after graduation she went to work at the Edward S. Curtis portrait studio. A grant awarded her by her sorority, Phi Beta Phi, of $500 allowed her to study photographic chemistry in Dresden in 1909, and upon her return in 1910 she opened her own studio in Seattle. There she established herself as a leading fine art photographer, always experimenting with new techniques and film.

She married artists Roi Partridge in 1915, with whom she had three sons. She closed her studio and they moved to California, where she would accept her first commercial assignment to photograph the Adolf Bohm Ballet. Eventually this led to a photography session with the dancer Martha Graham; from there on, Cunningham's celebrity portraiture work was in high demand. She and Partridge divorced in 1934, and soon thereafter she traveled with Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor to document lumber co-operative, beginning a lifelong series of what is now sometimes referred to as ³Street photography². She would exhibit nationally and internationally, occasionally teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, SF., and in 1970 the University of Washington Press published her first book, ³Imogen Cunningham: Photographs². Cunningham died in San Francisco in 1976.

Exhibitions: one-person exhib. at Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, 1914; Pictorial Photographic Society, Pal. of the Leg. of Hon., 1921; Film and Foto Exhibition, Stuttgart, Germany, 1929; De Young Museum, S.F., 1931; group exhib. ³Group f.64², de Young Museum, S.F., 1932; Los Angeles County Museum, 1932; Dallas Art Museum, 1935; E.B. Crocker Museum, CA, 1936; retrospective: International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, NY, 1960; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, 1973; Henry Art Gallery, U of Washington, 1974. Awards, honors, and fellowships: Fellow of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967; honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, CCAC, Oakland, 1968; Guggenheim Fellowship, 1970; Artist of the Year award, San Francisco Arts Commission, 1973; Alumna Summa Laude Dignata award, U of Washington, 1974.