Angel Island Insight #4: Imogen Cunningham

IMOGEN CUNNINGHAM (April 12, 1883 – June 23, 1976) was an American photographer known for her botanical photography, nudes, and industrial landscapes. Cunningham was a member of the California-based Group f/64, known for its dedication to the sharp-focus rendition of simple subjects.

A Rolleiflex camera owned by Imogen Cunningham, on display at the Oakland Museum of California. Photo by Jim Heaphy.

“The formula for doing a good job in photography is to think like a poet”

— Imogen Cunningham

“Angel Island, 1952” by Imogen Cunningham depicts a young man at the San Francisco ferry landing.

Imogen chose to verify her prints with a Chinese “chop” or seal. The chop is composed of three Chinese characters representing the name ‘Imogen’ spelled phonetically, Im-o-gen. These Chinese characters translate to “Ideas Without End.”

Imogen Cunningham. Angel Island, 1952. © 2021 Imogen Cunningham Trust

When we wrote to the Cunningham Estate to request permission to share this photo, we enjoyed the exchange with her granddaughter Meg Partridge. Meg spoke of Imogen’s friendship with photographer Benjamen Chinn, a relation to Lenore Chinn.

Meg also fondly recalled her grandmother Imogen’s special relationship with artist Ruth Asawa.

As the Asawa family notes on their website, “Beginning in the 1950s and until she died in 1976, Imogen Cunningham was a close personal friend. Many of Imogen’s photographs document Ruth’s early work and family life.”

When artist LILLI LANIER shared a lithograph that she made in college of her great grandmother Haru Asawa, drawn from a photograph taken by Imogen in 1966, we were delighted. Haru Yasuda came through Angel Island when she immigrated to the United States to marry Umakichi Asawa.

It is a special pleasure to link generations of artists through this special project.

Lilli Lanier. Haru (after Haru Asawa, 1966, by Imogen Cunningham). Lithograph on paper. 2006.

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