Edited by Paul Martineau
256 pages, hardcover, $50
Published by Getty Publications
Pioneering photographer Imogen Cunningham is often cited in photo history books but is less clearly understood, or celebrated, than her male peers. Despite international acclaim during her lifetime, Cunningham did not publish her first monograph until she was in her 80s. While she has never disappeared, her legacy and importance are less rigorously argued than many of her contemporaries. Like her peers, she began as a pictorialist in the early 1900s but quickly adopted the clean, crisp aesthetic of modernism in the 1920s, and turned her attention to the subjects for which she is best known, namely botanical studies, portraits and nudes. This impressive catalog presents a wide range of her work and accompanies a traveling retrospective that begins in June 2021 at the Getty in Los Angeles.
Editor Paul Martineau and contributor Susan Ehrens do not set out to rewrite our understanding of Cunningham so much as attempt to flesh out her work and give it more biographical context. While Cunningham is often remembered as a grandmotherly figure in her 80s, she was a smart, resourceful mother who raised several kids on her own, exhibited her images internationally and worked as a professional photographer. The book is full of surprises, like her lesser-known street photography, her multiple exposures and her portraits of fellow artists like Ruth Asawa. Covering a variety of work, from her early pictorialist style to her celebrated botanical studies and nudes to portraits and commercial assignments, the book offers beloved favorites and new treasures for fans and newcomers alike. —Adam Bell