Cunningham was inspired by Gertrude Käsebier's work and decided to become a photographer in 1901. She graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle, where she studied chemistry, in 1907. She was an assistant in the studio of Edward Curtis from 1907-1909, before leaving to study photographic chemistry at Technische Hochschule in Dresden. She met Käsebier and Alfred Stieglitz in New York in 1910, before returning to Seattle to open a portrait studio. Her early work was in the Pictorialist style and consisted of staged allegories using artist friends. In 1915 she married etcher Roi Partridge; they had three children. The family moved to San Francisco in 1917 and then to Oakland in 1920. Edward Weston, whom she met in 1923, chose ten of her plant studies to be included in an exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1929. Cunningham was a founding member of Group f/64 and was represented in its first exhibition, held at M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, in 1932. She photographed political figures and Hollywood stars for Vanity Fair from 1932-1934, and later, in the 1950s and 1960s, photographed poets of the beat generation and flower children in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1970 to print from her early negatives. At ninety-two she began a project to photograph people over ninety which culminated in her book After Ninety, published posthumously in 1977.
Imogen Cunningham: Photographs. Seattle (Washington), 1970.
After Ninety. San Francisco, 1977.
Imogen Cunningham, Ideals without End: A Life in Photographs. San Francisco, 1993.