The Dream (1910),
OF THOUSANDS OF portraits taken during her long career by pioneering photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), it is for her candid studies that she will be remembered: the rich, informal record she left of the writers, dancers, sculptors, painters, actors, filmmakers and other notables who made up the artistic milieu of the Bay Area during the sixty years she lived there.
People in their endless diversity and complexity were her passion. Beyond documenting her family, friends and associates, as a civil rights supporter she was preoccupied with recording the "minoritized" and disenfranchised of her century, producing countless portraits of blacks during the segregation years.
The commissioned work she did for a living was seldom as satisfying. She tired of dealing with the "egotistic conflicts" of her sitters, complaining that "people want themselves the way they see themselves."
A quintessential westcoast artist - she was born in Portland and educated at the University of Washington - Cunningham started out in Seattle in the portrait studio of Edward S. Curtis. She set up her own studio in 1910, had her first one-person show in 1914 and her last (of her lifetime) in 1976.
Of Cunningham's two specialties, portraiture and plant forms, portraiture was foremost. The exhibition is the first this gallery has devoted to this aspect of her work. It is accompanied by a just-released book, Portraits, by Cunningham biographer Richard Lorenz, from which the above quotes are taken.
© Norah Kembar