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Imogen Cunningham papers, 1903-1991

Imogen Cunningham papers, 1903-1991

Cunningham, Imogen, 1883-1976


Collection Information

Size: 5.9 linear feet

Summary: Biographical material, correspondence, personal business records, notes, teaching files, writings, interview transcripts, printed material, and photographs document the life and career of photographer Imogen Cunningham.

Biographical material includes a birth certificate, 5 biographical sketches, 4 award certificates, and a diploma for an honorary degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts. Correspondence, 1909-1991, is with family, friends, photographers, publishers, museums, galleries, universities and art organizations. Among the correspondents are Alvar Aalto, Ansel Adams, Laura Andreson, Edgar Bissantz, Margaret Bourke-White, Horace Bristol, Wynn Bullock, John Butler, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Lyonel Feininger, the George Eastman House, Morris Graves, Lillian Hellman, Henry Gallery, Consuelo Kanaga, Dorothea Lange, Margery Mann, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Beaumont Newhall, Arnold Newman, Sonya Noskowiak, Georgia O'Keeffe, Allon Schoener, Charles Sheeler, Edward Steichen, Otto Steinert, Paul Strand, Karl Struss, Alice B. Toklas, Willard Van Dyke, Edward Weston, Minor White, Lee Witkin of the Witkin Gallery, and William Zorach.

Legal and financial material includes loan agreements, Cunningham's will, 1962, insurance policies, bank account records, 1944-1973, check registers, 1966-1968, household accounts, 1950-1953, and records of the Imogen Cunningham Trust, 1974-1976. Notes, 1959-1968, include 4 address books, a notebook, lecture notes, and miscellaneous notes. Teaching files, 1964-1971, contain photographs of students and their critiques of their own work. Writings, ca. 1910-1976, are by Cunningham, including an essay "About the Direct-Development of of Platinum Papers for Brown Tones", and by others, including writings about Cunningham, and reviews of the book Imogen Cunningham: Photographs, 1970.

Two transcripts are from an undated video interview and a radio interview, 1951. Printed material, 1903-1991, consists of clippings, exhibition announcements and catalogs, press releases, calendars of events, programs, brochures, reproductions of art work, and miscellaneous printed material. Photographs, 1916-1976, are of Cunningham, family members, friends, residences, gallery openings and installations, and art work by others. Only four photographs were taken by Cunningham; they are enclosures in letters from John Butler, Lucy Coe, Pearl Cunningham, and Elizabeth Parker.

Biographical/Historical Note

Photographer, teacher; San Francisco, Calif. Born in Portland, Oregon, Cunningham received training in the Edward S. Curtis studio and in Dresden, Germany. In 1910, she opened a studio in Seattle. In 1932, she was a founding member of Group f.64 with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and others. She established a studio in San Francisco in 1947 and was primarily known for her portrait photography. Cunningham was married to printmaker Roi Partridge.


Donated 1974 and 1976 by Imogen Cunningham and in 1991 by her son, Gryffyrd Partidge. Papers donated by Cunningham were microfilmed on reels 1632-1639, but due to inferior film quality, were remicrofilmed on reels 5034- 5041 with the Gryffyrd Partridge donation.

A Finding Aid to the Imogen Cunningham Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Born in Portland, Oregon on April 12, 1883, Cunningham's family moved to Seattle in 1889. Inspired by Gertrude Kasebier's work, she purchased her first camera in 1901. After studying chemistry and botany at the University of Washington, she worked for the Edward S. Curtis Studio, Seattle, from 1907 to 1909. Receiving a scholarship, Cunningham studied for a year at the Technische Hochschule, Dresden.
Upon her return to Seattle in 1910, she opened a studio and had the first major exhibition of her work at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1912.
In 1915, Cunningham married printmaker Roi Partridge and gave birth to her first son, Gryffyd. Two years later, her family moved to California, where she gave birth to twin sons, Padraic and Rondal. In 1920, the family moved to Oakland, where her husband taught at Mills College. During the 1920s, she exhibited her art work and began photographing plant forms.
Along with Ansel Adams, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston, Cunningham formed the f/64 Group, a society of purist photographers in 1932. During the same year she began working for
Vanity Fair
and other magazines and began a career as a portrait photographer, including Martha Graham, Cary Grant, Morris Graves, Alfred Stieglitz, and Spencer Tracy as her subjects. She divorced her husband in 1934.
In 1947, Cunningham established a studio in her San Francisco home, and continued to exhibit extensively until her death on June 24, 1976.
The collection is arranged into ten series according to material type:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1907-1981, undated (box 1; 4 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1909-1991, undated (boxes 1-4; 3.6 linear feet)
Series 3: Personal Business Records, 1944-1976 (box 4; 15 folders)
Series 4: Notes, 1959-1968 (box 4; 10 folders)
Series 5: Teaching Files, 1964-1971 (box 5; 4 folders)
Series 6: Writings, circa 1910-1976 (box 5; 21 folders)
Series 7: Interview Transcripts, 1951, undated (box 5; 2 folders)
Series 8: Printed Material, 1903-1991 (boxes 5-7; 1.2 linear feet)
Series 9: Photographs, 1916-1976 (box 7; 12 folders)
Series 10: Oversized Material, 1947-1948, 1967, undated
Donated 1974 and 1976 by Imogen Cunningham and in 1991 by her son, Gryffyrd Partidge. Papers donated by Cunningham were microfilmed on reels 1632-1639, but due to inferior film quality, were remicrofilmed on reels 5034- 5041 with the Gryffyrd Partridge donation.
Processing Information
The collection was processed and the finding aid written by Jean Fitzgerald in 1995. The finding aid was modified by Stephanie Ashley in 2001 prior to EAD conversion.

Additional Forms Available

Microfilm reels 5034-5041 available for use at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

How to Cite This Collection

Imogen Cunningham papers, 1903-1991. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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