On View

SAM Is Showing a Major Imogen Cunningham Retrospective

The Washington-raised photographer's works range from floral abstraction to street photos.

By Stefan Milne October 5, 2021

Self-Portrait with KoronaView, 1933.

Image: Courtesy SAM

Photographer Imogen Cunningham grew up in Washington and apprenticed for Seattle’s famed Edward S. Curtis before moving to California. Her most famous images—on display at Seattle Art Museum as a part of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, the first major showing of her work since 1986—are of plants, shot so they nearly or fully abstract. They appear like some confluence of Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Weston, dramatic and gorgeous and connotative, though Cunningham was at it before either artist. This show is worth seeing not only for the consensus masterworks, but also for the stunning versatility of Cunningham’s lens, from nudes to street shots to portraiture.

Two Callas.

Cunningham’s love of nature, nurtured in childhood by her father was…stimulated by the flora of California. With little opportunity to pursue interests outside her Oakland home, around 1921 she planted a hillside garden, initially to grow subjects for her camera. “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small,” she recalled decades later. “I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time.”

—Susan Ehrens in the exhibition book

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective
Nov 18, 2021–Feb 6, 2022
Seattle Art Museum

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