The papers of photographer and teacher Imogen Cunningham, date from 1903 to 1991. The collection measures 5.9 feet of material, including correspondence, business and financial records, writings, printed matter, and photographs, and provides a good overview of Cunningham's life and career.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of photographer and teacher Imogen Cunningham, date from 1903 to 1991. The collection measures 5.9 feet of material, including correspondence, business and financial records, writings, printed matter, and photographs, and provides a good overview of Cunningham's life and career. 3.6 linear feet of correspondence comprise the bulk of the collection.
The collection is arranged into ten series according to material type:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1907-1981, undated (box 1; 4 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1909-1991, undated (boxes 1-4; 3.6 linear feet)
Series 3: Personal Business Records, 1944-1976 (box 4; 15 folders)
Series 4: Notes, 1959-1968 (box 4; 10 folders)
Series 5: Teaching Files, 1964-1971 (box 5; 4 folders)
Series 6: Writings, circa 1910-1976 (box 5; 21 folders)
Series 7: Interview Transcripts, 1951, undated (box 5; 2 folders)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1903-1991 (boxes 5-7; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 9: Photographs, 1916-1976 (box 7; 12 folders)
Series 10: Oversized Material, 1947-1948, 1967, undated
Born in Portland, Oregon on April 12, 1883, Cunningham's family moved to Seattle in 1889. Inspired by Gertrude Kasebier's work, she purchased her first camera in 1901. After studying chemistry and botany at the University of Washington, she worked for the Edward S. Curtis Studio, Seattle, from 1907 to 1909. Receiving a scholarship, Cunningham studied for a year at the Technische Hochschule, Dresden.
Upon her return to Seattle in 1910, she opened a studio and had the first major exhibition of her work at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1912.
In 1915, Cunningham married printmaker Roi Partridge and gave birth to her first son, Gryffyd. Two years later, her family moved to California, where she gave birth to twin sons, Padraic and Rondal. In 1920, the family moved to Oakland, where her husband taught at Mills College. During the 1920s, she exhibited her art work and began photographing plant forms.
Along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston, Cunningham formed the f/64 Group, a society of purist photographers in 1932. During the same year she began working for Vanity Fair and other magazines and began a career as a portrait photographer, including Martha Graham, Cary Grant, Morris Graves, Alfred Stieglitz, and Spencer Tracy as her subjects. She divorced her husband in 1934.
In 1947, Cunningham established a studio in her San Francisco home, and continued to exhibit extensively until her death on June 24, 1976.
The collection was donated to the Archives of American Art by Imogen Cunningham in 1974 and 1976, and by her son, Gryffyd Partridge, in 1991.
The collection is open for research. Patrons must use microfilm copy.
Photographers -- California -- San Francisco Search this
1 Microfilm reel (73 items on partial microfilm reel)
Scope and Contents:
This microfilm collection of Ansel Adams correspondence with Imogen Cunningham consists of correspondence between Ansel and his wife Virginia Best Adams and Imogen Cunningham. Most letters are from Cunningham. They write about their work and about both artistic and technical problems of photography, about various proposals for a monograph on Cunningham, about Nathan Lyons and Karl Struss, and about personal matters. In one letter, Mrs. Adams offers Cunningham detailed advice on the disposition of her works and papers after her death.
Biographical / Historical:
Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was an American landscape photographer known for his black and white images of the American West. He took some of his earliest photographs at national parks and as a member of the Sierra Club, which he joined at the age of 17. He was later contracted with the United States Department of the Interior to make photographs of national parks. In 1980, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work and environmental advocacy.
With Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System, a technique to determine the ideal film exposure and development to achieve full tonal range. The clarity and depth resulting from this technique characterized Adams's photography.
Adams was a key advisor in establishing the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and helped to stage their first exhibition. He helped found Group f/64, an association of photographers who advocated for "pure" photography favoring sharp focus and the use of the full tonal range of a photograph. He also helped found the photography magazine Aperture, and co-founded the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.
Virginia Best Adams (1904-2000) and Ansel Adams married in 1928. After her father, Harry Best, passed away in 1936, Virginia Best Adams managed Best's Studio (now the Ansel Adams Gallery), selling high quality merchandise including a series of Ansel Adams photographs called special edition prints. She was an active environmentalist and served on the board of directors of the Sierra Club from 1931 to 1933, was a Trustee of the Yosemite Natural History Association, and was also an avid mountaineer, credited with making the first ascent by a woman of a route on Mt. Whitney in what is now Sequoia National Park.
Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) was a photographer in California known for her botanical photography, nudes, and industrial landscapes. Cunningham began her career producing soft-focus prints in the tradition of pictorialism. In the early 1920s she shifted focus to close-up, sharply detailed studies of plant life and other natural forms. In 1932, Cunningham joined Ansel Adams in Group f/64, a group formed in opposition to pictorialism and dedicated to precisely exposed images.
The Archives of American Art also holds the Ansel and Virginia Adams letters from Imogen Cunningham, 1966; the Imogen Cunningham papers, 1903-1991; and an oral history interview with Imogen Cunningham, 1975 June 9 conducted by Louise Katzman and Paul Karlstrom. The University of California, Berkeley Bancroft Library holds the Ansel Adams collection and the University of California, Los Angeles Charles E. Young Research Library holds the Ansel Adams Papers, 1938-1944. The University of Arizona, Center for Creative Photography holds the Ansel Adams archive, the Ansel Adams Miscellaneous Acquisitions collection, the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust, and the Imogen Cunningham Miscellaneous Acquisitions Collection, 1920s-1974.
Photocopies of the letters were donated 1978 by Ansel Adams and microfilmed on reel 1410. Photocopies discarded after microfilming.
The Archives of American Art does not own the originals. Microfilmed materials must be consulted on microfilm. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Authorization to publish, quote or reproduce requires written permission from: Executor of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. Items for which publication permission is received must carry the following credit: "Courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona at Tucson." Contact Reference Services for more information.
Karl Struss, man with a camera : the artist-photographer in New York and Hollywood ... Cranbrook Academy of Art/Museum ... [et al.] / [exhibition organized, and catalogue prepared, researched, written, and edited by Susan and John Harvith]