Without Excuse: Imogen Cunningham

Imogen Cunningham is known as one of the greatest American women photographers. In 1901, she sent away $15 for her first camera which started the longest photographic career in history (75 years). She continued taking pictures until a week before her death in 1976. When she died she had been working in the medium for more than half of the medium’s history.

Over the course of her career she explored all aspects of photography and worked with it as it changed. She experimented with multiple exposures, avant-garde, and surrealism. She said, “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

She began her career (as most women photographers did then) taking photos of her kids and household plants. She soon moved onto doing nudes, and male nudes at that. She was one of the first female photographers to exhibit male nudes and this scandalized Seattle society. The photo below on the right is of her husband taken on Mt. Rainier.

A big part of her claim to fame is that she was one of the founding members of Group f/64, along with Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. Group f/64, although people have suggested otherwise, was just a causal, informal group of friends who met together from time to time in a gallery. They sound a lot like us at Faded & Blurred (imagine that!)…people getting together to just talk about photography and show their pictures to each other and the public. They called themselves Group f/64 because the members were dedicated to the sharpest, most defined image possible. Cunningham’s interest in the group began to grow, but rather than shooting landscapes she photographed really intimate and extraordinarily sensual objects.

During the span of her career so much had changed with regards to the art world and she changed with it. As we age I think we have a tendency to get stuck in a mode of “this is what I do and I do okay at it so why should I change?” Cunningham was never like that; she always explored and moved and was willing and eager to try new things with regards to her art. These are brilliant self-portraits. Both of them showing us confidence, facing her age, and all of us, with no fear.

At the age of 92 she started a new project called “After Ninety”, which was a series of portraits primarily of people over the age of ninety who were still fully involved in their profession leading active lives as she was. I’m sure there were plenty of people around her telling her to put the camera down, to take it easy and relax, but this was her life and as long as she had the ability she was going to keep at it. This project was never completed, but the photos she did take were published in a book after she died.

There are so many times in my life that I feel too old – too old to be starting over, too old to be learning anything new – and then I read about people like Imogen. I can almost hear her saying through these photos, “How dare you think you are too old! There is no such thing. If you have found your passion just get out there and do it without excuse!”


Imogen Cunningham.
Imogen Cunningham on Pinterest

Recommended Reading

Imogen Cunningham: Portraiture
Imogen Cunningham: Ideas Without Photographs

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