National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Gertrude Gerrish Imogen Cunningham (artist)
American, 1883 - 1976
Gertrude Gerrish, late 1920s
gelatin silver print
image: 20.8 × 16.6 cm (8 3/16 × 6 9/16 in.)
The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation Fund
Not on View
From the Tour: Modern Portraits in Photography
Object 4 of 13

After earning a degree in chemistry at the University of Washington (1907), Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) trained in the Seattle studio of Edward Curtis (1868-1952), a specialist in genre and portrait photographs of Native American tribespeople. Following further studies of photochemistry in Dresden, Germany, Cunningham returned to the West Coast, where she exhibited regularly and founded her own portrait studio. She is best remembered together with Edward Weston and Ansel Adams as a member of f/64, the 1930s group whose crisp, technically precise abstractions shaped the course of art photography in America.

Cunningham's portrait of Gertrude Gerrish, who studied etching with Cunningham's husband Roi Partridge, has much in common with the starkly erotic compositions created by Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston in the preceding decade. Cunningham's highly unnatural camera angle, however, relates most directly to the modernist style propagated by members of the German art school, the Bauhaus (1919-1933). Close-up views from directly above or below and poses that suggest a casual intimacy with the photographer are hallmarks of this style. Bauhaus affiliates particularly favored views of their friends apparently asleep, as Gerrish is here, for their suggestion of revealing a dreamlike, inner character. The "New Vision," as this approach was termed, attained unprecedented visibility at the 1929 Film und Foto exhibition, a mammoth international survey of contemporary photography in which Cunningham took part. With their revolutionary reinvention of portraiture, above all, practitioners of the New Vision crystallized the metaphorical aim of an entire generation: to change the face of their time.

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