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Yesterday I had the unique pleasure of meeting the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham – perhaps one of the very few photographers who helped shaped my identity and relationship with photography. A friend remembered what I said about my love for her work just a couple weeks ago and that is why I was so lucky to know about this event.
I was at the Oceanside Museum of Art and listened to: “Remembering Imogen Cunningham.” Imogen’s granddaughter, Meg Partridge, who heads up Imogen’s trust, gave the lecture and shared with the audience, snippets of her life, working for Imogen in the dark room as a girl and living a life with a family which was far from boring.
Imogen might be best known for her work with botanicals, but it is the way she took photos of people, bodies and her own self portraits that really moved me. I won’t forget the time I received a book of hers as a gift. None of my professors taught me about Imogen and I could not imagine why. During her lifetime, she not only became a pivotal figure as a photographer, she was also a pioneer – there weren’t many other women photographers at that time who possessed the talent, skills and bravery she was born with.
Meeting Meg Partridge yesterday was wonderful and I hope she really understood how important it was to me. Imogen died on June 24th, 1976, two years before I was born. Not ever knowing her and having such a strong connection to the black and white images I studied time after time, meeting Meg was almost my way of saying thank you to a great artist, in the hopes she would hear me through her granddaughter.
The stories Meg shared I think could have gone a long way if there were a few younger people in the audience. She talked about when Imogen used heavy glass plate negatives, used bulky 4×5 and 8×10 view cameras, and spent hours trying to get the best shot. People who wouldn’t care much for a darkroom I think would be grateful for how simplified photography is today with tiny digital cameras, memory cards and computers. Having been taught how to develop film and prints in high school and then doing it roll by roll when I worked at a newspaper, I am grateful I experienced working with chemicals and spent hours perfecting a project. Though the smells from the chemicals were sometimes unbearable, I do miss it. Every photographer I know who worked in a darkroom at one time or another joked about the chemicals being bad for their health, and they probably were, but no one cared.
Click here for an interview with Meg on KPBS.