Imogen Cunningham, born in Portland, Oregon on April 12, 1883, was known for her portraits, nudes, and plant and animal photographs. She began to study chemistry and photochemistry in Seattle, Washington, and received her degree in 1907. After that, she first worked as an assistant to Edward S. Curtis in Seattle and then studied an additional year in Dresden.
In 1910, she went to New York, where she met Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude Käsebier – her great role model. Back in Seattle, Cunningham opened her own portrait studio and produced photographs in the pictorial style.
Imogen Cunningham married and had three sons. Some of the nudes that showed her husband ("The Bather", 1916) created a scandal. In 1917, she moved to San Francisco, where she met Lange and Weston. She turned away from pictorialism and took precise close-ups of animals and plants (for example, the famous series of magnolia blossoms) and nude photographs in the style of "straight photography".
At the same time, she worked with experimental photographic methods, creating multiple exposures and light abstractions. In 1929, she participated in the exhibit "film and foto". Two years after that, a photo series of the dancer Martha Graham appeared, which was published in "Vanity Fair". After this success, Imogen Cunningham received numerous inquiries from Hollywood stars. In the same year she was a co-founder of the group "f/64", which advocated for the goals of "straight photography". However, Imogen Cunningham herself never bowed completely to the aesthetic goals of the group, but instead also experimented with other modes of expression. One example of this is her series of street photographs from New York (1934).
After 1935, she focused primarily on portrait photography. After a trip to Europe in 1960, she began to become involved in the American civil rights movement against the war in Vietnam. She taught for several years at the California School of Fine Arts. In 1973, Imogen Cunningham, at the time over ninety, photographed seniors – these became the powerful portraits "Over Ninety", which were published in 1977, one year after her death on June 23, 1976.