During a remarkable career that spanned seven decades, Imogen Cunningham produced a diverse body of work that mirrored the course of American photography through much of the 20th century. She acquired her first camera in 1905, and her early portraits and figure studies were in the soft-focus, pictorial mode that defined art photography of the day. In the mid-1920s, her work took a new direction when she adopted a sharp-focus, modernist esthetic to create boldly rendered images of plants, nudes, and industrial landscapes. Although formal portraiture became Cunningham’s mainstay after 1930, she continued to explore other aspects of her medium, including still-life, documentary, and street photography. Wide public recognition eluded her for most of her career, but when it came late in her life, she delighted in the newfound celebrity.
This image, shot in 1975, was included in a portfolio of Abe Frajndlich’s photographs published in the April 1991 issue of ARTnews. Describing the encounter, Frajndlich recalled, “She was in her garden, and she started holding her garden shears… as a play on the way I was holding my camera. That was Imogen—a woman totally alive and witty at 91.” —Ann Shumard
Adapted from the forthcoming book Portrait of the Art World: A Century of ARTnews Photographs, to be published by Yale University Press in conjunction with the exhibition of the same title at the New-York Historical Society, in New York City, from September 27 to January 5. The show was organized by the National Portrait Gallery.