Tacoma Art Museum’s photography collection currently numbers around 450 works dating from 1905 to the present and includes a range of photographic processes from early chloride prints and photogravures to recent digital technologies. In the past year we have added a number of wonderful new images but notably, we have been fortunate to add groups of work by two prominent Northwest-born photographers: Carrie Mae Weems and Imogen Cunningham.
Imogen Cunningham was born in Portland, Oregon in 1883. She taught herself photography at the age of 18 and later pursued a degree in chemistry from the University of Washington because the University had no program for studying photography at that time. She worked as an assistant in the Seattle studio of photographer Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952) and then spent a year traveling through Europe and to major cities on the East Coast. On her return, she settled in Seattle and established her own photography business. Her studio became a gathering place for Seattle’s progressive artists, many of whom served as models for her soft-focused compositions based on poetry and literature and heavily influenced by Japanese aesthetics.
Cunningham relocated to California in 1918. From 1932 to 1934 she photographed politicians and Hollywood movie stars for the magazine Vanity Fair. She also continued to create her own artistic work and was a founding member of the San Francisco-based photography collective, Group f/64, that transformed the look of modern photography by emphasizing “straight photography”, that is pictures that weren’t technically manipulated.
Cunningham made significant contributions to photography not only in the Northwest but also internationally and so TAM has been working to acquire a group of her works that show her various styles from throughout her career. There are now 12 works by her in the collection, most of which can be seen here.
The most recent additions are Two Callas from 1929 and The Unmade Bed, 1957. Two Callas is a classic example of the work Cunningham began creating after her move to California when she started exploring sharply focused and dramatically composed portraits, nudes, and close-ups of plants and flowers.
Cunningham wanted to make images that portrayed the beauty and drama in moments from everyday life. The Unmade Bed can be appreciated simply as a stunning study of light on rippling cloth, remind of us our own daily routines, or suggest a story waiting to be written.
For more about Imogen Cunningham and to see more of her work visit the Imogen Cunningham Trust website at https://www.imogencunningham.com/. There was also a retrospective exhibition of her work on view at the Seattle Art Museum through February 6, 2022.