Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective

by: Paul Martineau

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Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective / ISBN 9781606066751 / 256-page hardcover, 9.5 x 11 inches, from Getty Publications

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Thoroughly researched and beautifully produced, this catalogue complements the first comprehensive retrospective in the United States of Imogen Cunningham’s work in over thirty-five years.

Celebrated American artist Imogen Cunningham (1883–1976) enjoyed a long career as a photographer, creating a large and diverse body of work that underscored her unique vision, versatility, and commitment to the medium. An early feminist and inspiration to future generations, Cunningham intensely engaged with Pictorialism and Modernism; genres of portraiture, landscape, the nude, still life, and street photography; and themes such as flora, dancers and music, hands, and the elderly.

Organized chronologically, this volume explores the full range of the artist’s life and career. It contains nearly two hundred color images of Cunningham’s elegant, poignant, and groundbreaking photographs, both renowned and lesser known, including several that have not been published previously. Essays by Paul Martineau and Susan Ehrens draw from extensive primary source material such as letters, family albums, and other intimate materials to enrich readers’ understanding of Cunningham’s motivations and work.

“These days, high modernism can sometimes look as distant as a faraway star, a place of heedless optimism and tranquil contemplation. For that very reason, though, the images can be tonic, lowering one’s blood pressure as they induce concentration of sight. Imogen Cunningham took up a camera at the dawn of the 20th century, when few women were working in the field, and made pictures for nearly seven decades. She took every sort of photo; portraits, street scenes and landscapes all figure brilliantly in her body of work. What she did best, though, was to convey the sensual impact of harmonious forms, finding these especially in nudes, both male and female, and in the vegetable kingdom. Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, by Paul Martineau, displays her ecstatic studies of flowers—lilies, tuberoses, magnolias—seen in extreme close-up as if they were worlds in themselves, and juxtaposes them with languorous sprawled bodies that become dunes and arroyos. She can turn her eye with similar entrancement to ceramics, textiles, the organically flowing wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa, and even industrial structures. She has never been granted anywhere near the attention accorded her counterpart and contemporary Edward Weston, but revision is clearly in order.”--Lucy Sante, The New York Times Book Review