Imogen’s Critique

I just finished reading Imogen Cunningham: A Portrait, Judy Dater‘s compilation of reminiscences by many of the people who knew Imogen Cunningham well. I enjoyed the book for its insights into the history and personalities of mid-20th century photography, and also because it recalled memories of my own brief encounter with Imogen Cunningham.

In 1970 I attended an Easter Week Photography Workshop at the Friends of Photography (in the space now occupied by the Center for Photographic Art) in Carmel. The daily field trips, lectures, critiques, and darkroom sessions were led by many well-known West Coast photographers. I was then a shy and awkward 14-year-old, probably the youngest ever to attend one of these workshops, but no less eager than the adults to learn the art and techniques of photography from illustrious masters.

Ansel Adams' Living Room, March 1970

Ansel’s living room.

One day I was with a group visiting Ansel Adams’ house on the coast just south of Carmel. While half the group was with Ansel in his darkroom, the other half gathered beside tall picture-windows in a corner of his huge living room, for a critique session with Imogen. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Imogen was well known (yet loved) for her very direct, even sharp, expression of opinions about photographs.

At some point I nervously presented my paltry collection of matted prints, most of which are now long lost and forgotten. One of them was a silhouette of  two fishermen on a rock at Point Lobos. I had been experimenting recently with extreme high-contrast images, made by “printing” to an intermediate negative on Kodalith film. I found the graphic nature of such images interesting. Imogen held this one up and said “Sometimes I feel people are trying to shock me.”

Fishermen at Point Lobos

A shocking image?

I think I was far more shocked than she was, and where the conversation went from there, I no longer recall. But now I feel honored to have been gifted with a bit of Imogen Cunningham’s famously sharp wit.

Another time during that week, we wandered around Moss Landing with Imogen.

Imogen Cunningham at Moss Landing, 1970 Imogen at Moss Landing, 1970.

.Imogen Cunningham at Moss Landing, 1970

Imogen at Moss Landing, 1970.


Imogen Cunningham at Moss Landing, 1970

Imogen at Moss Landing, 1970.



Tim Messick Photography • Graphics
Copyright © 2012 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.



About Tim Messick

Photographer, cartographer, and botanist/naturalist. Home is in Davis, California. Home-away-from-home is the eastern Sierra Nevada. Compiling a flora of the Bodie Hills.
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One Response to Imogen’s Critique

  1. drawandshoot says:

    Shock can be memorable . : )

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