Short Bio

  • Early Life & Education, Growing up in Oregon & Seattle

    Self Portrait with Camera, late 1920s

    Early Life & Education

    Growing up in Oregon & Seattle

    Imogen Cunningham was born in Portland, Oregon in 1883 and  grew up in Seattle, Washington.  With a stong interest in photography she pursued and received a degree in chemistry from The University of Washington in Seattle in 1907.


    Imogen joined the Edward Curtis Studio in Seattle as an assistant, absorbing all that she could. She learned the business of running a portrait studio while also being encouraged to gain more knowledge about the platinum printing process by the printer at the studio, Adolph Kuhn. With Kuhn's encouragement, Imogen traveled to Dresden Germany in 1909 to study photographic chemistry with Robert Luther at Technische Hochschule.

    "My best picture is the one I'll take tomorrow" - Imogen Cunningham

  • Early Portraiture Work, Studio Photographer on Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington

    Boy with Incense, 1912

    Early Portraiture Work

    Studio Photographer on Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington

    Consistent with the practice of Edward Curtis, Imogen opened a portrait studio to support herself while she pursued her own photographic passions. Her studio was unique in that Imogen created expressive  portraiture and took pride in offering a more naturalistic approach than the otherwise rigid poses and sterotype formats routinely created on the premises of many commercial studios.

  • Family, Managing Family and Work in San Fransisco

    Self Portrait with Twins, 1918


    Managing Family and Work in San Fransisco

    In 1917 Imogen was living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her  husband, etcher Roi Partridge, and her three sons. Her worked adapted to this new role as a working mother, but she was still never far from her camera. Now her seach for beauty was closer to home and botanicals and her family became her focus.

    “I never stopped photographing. There were a couple of years when I didn’t have a darkroom, but that didn’t stop me from photographing.” – Imogen Cunningham

  • Botanicals, Finding Beauty in the Abstract Qualities of Nature

    Two Callas, about 1925


    Finding Beauty in the Abstract Qualities of Nature

    From the early 1920s she began to take close-up, sharply detailed studies of plant life and other natural forms, including a multi-year, in-depth study of the Magnolia flower and Calla Lillies, two common plants in her Bay Area neighborhood. Transitioning from the pictoralist style of a decade earlier, her work became more sharply detailed with a strong focus on light and form.


    This period of intense study produced some of the most recognizaable photographs of Imogen Cunningham's career.


    “My interest in photography has something to do with the aesthetic, and that there should be a little beauty in everything.” - Imogen Cunningham

  • Group f.64, A New Modernist Approach to Photography

    Agave Design 2, 1920s

    Group f.64

    A New Modernist Approach to Photography

    In 1932, a loosely knit group of West Coast photographers formed the Group f.64. Among the charter members were Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Sonya Noskowiak. They rejected the sentimental soft-focus subjects in favor of greater sharpness, detail and representation of the image itself.


    With a rich tapestry of photographic interests among these colleagues and friends, they worked to push photography as distinguished from other art forms, unique in its' own capabilities and expression. This included grand landscapes from Ansel Adams, intimate still lifes from Edward Westin and striking nudes and plant form work from Imogen Cunningham.


    In addition to the charter member, the group also recognized many other popular West Coast photographers including Henry Swift, John Paul Edwards, Alma Levenson, Brett Westin, Consuelo Kanaga, and Preston Holder. Among the many successes of the Group f.64 were the exhibition of several photographic shows and the increased notice and attention to a new modernist approach to photography.

  • California Portraiture, Photographing Artists in their Environment

    Frida Kahlo Rivera, Painter and Wife of Diego Rivera, 1931

    California Portraiture

    Photographing Artists in their Environment

    Throughout her career, Imogen Cunnigham undertook a diverserve range of portraiture. From intimate personal work to commerical assignments she always worked to capture the essence and personality of her subjects.


    Here personal work often included photographers (Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Minor White) dancers (Jose Limon, Merce Cunningham) and writers (Gertude Stein, Sherwood Anderson).


    Of special note is her stunning series of portraits with Frida Kahlo in 1931, Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather in 1922, Martha Graham in 1931,  culminating with a stunning series of Ruth Asawa and her transformative wire sculptures that lasted over two decades.


    In addition to her personal photographic pursuits, Imogen Cunningham accepted select commercial assignments, included an ongoing relationship with Vanity Fair. Self describe as "The First and Last Word on Modernism," Imogen Cunningham was a natural choice to capture and promote Vanity Fair's vision. She photographed such personalities as Spency Tracy, Cary Grant, James Gagney and others.


    “The formula for doing a good job in photography is to think like a poet" - Imogen Cunningham