Focusing on Imogen Cunningham

21 May
Imogen Cunningham, left, was one of the first female photographers to make a statement.

Imogen Cunningham, left, was one of the first female photographers to make a statement.

Hello and welcome back to Suffragette Kitty.

My publicist and I took an unexpected break, as she had all these things to deal with, which totally distracted us. But, we’re back on track and ready to highlight Imogen Cunningham, a woman famous for her photography of plants and portraiture. But it is her photos of nudes, the perfection of the female body, that captivate my publicist and me the most.

Actually, it is Imogen’s first name that fascinates my publicist more than her work. What a beautiful, exotic name. How much more interesting life would be if she were only referred to as Imogen instead of my publicist. How simple it would be to find initial plaques for the wall, and off-the-shelf monogrammed stationery, as an exclusive “I” would most always be more available than a ho-hum, run-of-the-mill “M.” How flowy her dresses would be and how windswept her hair, if only her parents had the foresight to name her Imogen.

But alas, she was given the name she was and though she tried to play with the spelling as her friend Elyn, once Ellen, had done, she is cursed with the constant conflicts her name has caused. Then there were the exhausting, constant questions:  “Is that hyphenated?” No. “Is it one word?” No, two separate.  “Are the M and P both capped?” No, only the “m,” if it is at the beginning of a sentence. “Is it a family name?” Fortunately for her family members, no.

She tried running them together: Mypublicist. People would read it, squint and totally mispronounce it: She tried capping the P, as in MyPublicist, and people thought she was a registred trademark. She should change it to Imogen, but that would cause unnecessary confusion at class and family reunions, so she soldiers on as my publicist, one word, not two.

Ahh, here we go straying again. The real focus of today’s post is Imogen Cunningham, a ΠΒΦ girl who was born Oregon in 1883. (Pi Beta Phi, btw, has its own Lilly Pulitzer collection, so you know Imogen had the IPhone cover for sure, the sparkle tote and the Murfette scarf, which my publicist is sure was very “flowy.”) BTW, my publicist isn’t Greek. It’s an off-the-rack Murfee scarf for her. 😦

Imogen was a smart gal, majoring in chemistry. She was also a babe on a budget. I can so relate. She photographed plants for her school’s biology department to offset tuition payments. Her work was so impressive, ΠΒΦ awarded her a scholarship to study in one of my favorite places, Deutschland! Returning from Germany, she stopped off in NYC and met up with established photographers Alfred Stieglitz  and Gertrude Käsebier in New York. (More on Gertrude later.)

Imogen (Oh, how we love that name!) concentrated more on photographing botanicals and portraits with an eye for depth and expression. My publicist has worked as a news photographer in the past and knows how difficult it is to capture something as elusive as expression. As her work, Imogen’s not my publicist’s, progressed, she became even more fascinated in hands, their design, their movement, their expression. One series includes photographs of hands of artists and musicians. The tools for their creations.

Imogen’s work led her to a position at Vanity Fair, where she photographed celebrities before their makeup artists got a hold of them. Through this work, Imogen became a founder of e Group f/64, which aimed to “define photography as an art form by a simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods.”

Capturing reality. That’s what Imogen did best, and she did it well. She was also married, had three children and continued to work, an almost unheard-of combination of traits in her day. Imogen did divorce, but long after her exhibit of nudes of her husband. What a gamble that exhibit was, both professionally and personally. The exhibit was a success after the dust settled, and the divorce was related to her not being controlled by him, not the photos.

Imogen also worked with Ansel Adams and was a faculty member at the California School of Fine Art, which is now the San Francisco Art Institute.

What my publicist and I like best about Imogen, besides her name, of course, is her ability to capture natural beauty. While Imogen has hosts of breathtaking photography, my publicist and I like the photo of her and the young woman best. Is Imogen seeing herself as a young woman, or is she seeing the beautiful woman in all of us? Your thoughts.

xo, LMA

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6 Responses to “Focusing on Imogen Cunningham”

  1. Sheila May 21, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    I like both ideas – that she’s seeing herself as a young woman or the beauty in all of us – or maybe she’s surprised by nature. It’s really such a contrast – the clothed and unclothed, the old and young. I have no idea really but you’ve made me think and that’s hard to do! 🙂

    • louisamayalcatt May 21, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

      As always, Sheila, you bring great perspective to everything. Yes, there are so many “untolds” in the photo. That must be what makes it art. BTW, we think your brain is churning nonstop, xox LMA

  2. Letizia May 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    Thank you for introducing me to this fascinating photographer. I love that she did an exhibit of nudes of her husband – quite taboo at the time! The photo here is so sweet, especially as the young woman seems a bit shy in a way.

    • louisamayalcatt May 21, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

      Hello Letizia,

      Thanks for the feedback. Imogen was certainly a remarkable, brave woman. We could not resist the photo. We hope you stay tuned, xo LMA

  3. Carol Jamison May 21, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    Fascinating woman!

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