Through My Lens

Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976) is renowned as the groundbreaking female American photographer of her time with one of the longest photographic careers in the history of the medium. A major figure in 20th-century American photography, Cunningham was a co-founder of Group f.64, joining forces with Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and other San Francisco Bay Area photographers who shared an aesthetic of sharply-focused images and natural subjects.

Cunningham was a determined and innovative artist. She came to photography through studying chemistry, the scientific background for her chosen art form. She was the first woman to photograph the male nude, for which she was considered indelicate. She gravitated towards artists, marrying the printmaker Roi Partridge. She raised three sons all while continuing to expand her photography. It was during this time that she produced some of her best known work, close ups of the flowers in her Bay Area surroundings and garden. Later in her career Vanity Fair hired her to photograph Hollywood celebrities. When asked who she would like to photograph, she replied, “Ugly men, because they never complain, you know.”

As curators we had the pleasure of revisiting Cunningham’s expansive archive of images and reflecting on this pioneering female artist. This exhibition of her female gaze on the men of her time gently emerged. The diversity of her observations on men was a fascinating theme. She embodied many perspectives – that of an artist, of a mother, of a wife and a lover. The photographs in this exhibition span her seven decade career. This exhibition gives a contemporary perspective to this iconic artist, who has influenced generations of female photographers to follow their intuition and passion regardless of societal preconceptions. A new perspective through her lens.

The Imogen Cunningham Trust –

The Imogen Cunningham Trust is engaged in preserving Imogen Cunningham’s work, managing her rights and permissions, and promoting her work through publications and exhibitions.

The Trust was established by Imogen Cunningham in 1975, and is still a family run operation: Meg Partridge, Imogen’s granddaughter, is the Director of the Trust. A photographer and filmmaker, Meg worked for Imogen as a teenager as one of her assistants, archived Imogen’s negatives in 1980, and worked for the Trust during the 1980s and 1990s in a variety of roles, from Archivist to Acting Director. As a filmmaker, she directed and produced the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Portrait of Imogen, among other films.

Imogen Cunningham: Through My Lens will be on view from February 17th to May 7th, 2018
at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art’s North Gallery. In addition Meg Partridge will give an Art As A Voice presentation of her film Portrait of Imogen on April 7th, location and time TBA. The San Juan Islands Museum of Art is located at 540 Spring Street in Friday Harbor, WA. For more information please call (360) 370-5050 or visit us at

I don’t know who tells me this, but somebody said, that I’m the first woman that ever photographed a nude man. I was made fun of at that time, when I photographed in 1915, my husband nude on Mount Rainier. Of course they were not acknowledged as being a nice ladylike job, I was condemned, by the newspaper, a well known publishing company in Seattle, and they called me an immoral woman. And now, people seem to pay for them and buy them and like to look at them.”
– Imogen Cunningham

I don’t hunt for anything. I don’t hunt for things –
I just wait until something strikes me.
Of course I hunt for an expression when I’m trying to photograph people.”
– Imogen Cunningham

I have a formula for how to make a good photograph; I think
that in order to make a good
photograph, you have to be
enthusiastic. That is, you have to think about it, like a poet would.
And there are many choices, at that.”
– Imogen Cunningham

Self-Portrait with Korona View, 1933,
© 2018 Imogen Cunningham Trust
Featured Image: John Butler with Mask about 1922 (detail), © 2018 Imogen Cunningham Trust
Sponsored by The Imogen Cunningham Trust