Born in Portland, Oregon, on April 12, 1883, Imogen was just 6 years old when her parents moved to Seattle. In 1901, at the age of eighteen, Cunningham bought her first camera, a 4x5 inch view camera, from the American School of Art in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She soon lost interest and sold the camera to a friend. It wasn’t until 1906, while studying at the University of Washington in Seattle, that she was inspired by an encounter with the work of Gertrude Käsebier, to take up photography again. With the help of her chemistry professor, Dr. Horace Byers, she began to study the chemistry behind photography and she subsidized her tuition by photographing plants for the botany department. After graduating in 1907, Cunningham went to work for Edward S. Curtis in his Seattle studio, gaining knowledge about the portrait business and practical photography.
In 1909, Cunningham won a scholarship from her sorority (Pi Beta Phi) for foreign study and applied to study with Professor Robert Luther at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden, Germany. She decided to went off alone to Germany to study photography. She spent a year at the Technische Hochschule and returned home in 1910, where she opened her own portrait studio and became one of the first female professional photographers in America.
From 1906 to 1976, Imogen took self-portraits with her camera. Her first nude self portrait was described by Imogen: "My first nude photography was a self-portrait in the woods, 1906, on the University of Washington campus. I set it up and jumped into it, and that was it."
|Self Portrait, 1906|
|Self Portrait in 1863 Costume, 1909|
|Self Portrait with Camera, 1912|
|Self Portrait with My Children, late 1920s|
|Self Portrait with Family, 1925|
|Self Portrait in Mirror, Hume, 1934|
|Self Portrait with Jane Foster, Lake Tenaya, 1939|
|Jane and Alice and Imogen, 1940|
|Self Portrait on Market Street, 1950|
|Self Portrait with Grandchildren in the Funhouse, 1955|
|Self Portrait in the Mother Lode, 1957|
|Self Portrait on Geary Street, 1958|
|Self Portrait, Denmark, 1961|
|Self Portrait in Broken Mirror, 1970|
|My Label, 1973|
|Self Portrait in Broken Mirror, 1973|
|Self Portrait with Bill Hammer, 1973|
|Self Portrait with Morris Graves, 1973|
|Self Portrait with Esther Bruton, 1974|
|Self Portrait, 1900s - 1974|
(Photos by Imogen Cunningham; courtesy of The Imogen Cunningham Trust)