Retrospective shines light on one of America’s greatest photographers

Columbia, S.C. – The Columbia Museum of Art proudly presents the major spring exhibition Seen & Unseen: Photographs by Imogen Cunningham, a retrospective showcasing one of the most influential and innovative photographers in the history of the genre, on view from Friday, February 2, through Sunday, April 29, 2018. The exhibition features 60 of Cunningham’s best works of art as well as camera equipment and archival materials.

“The CMA has a tradition of exhibiting important female photographers. Take our recent exhibitions on Annie Leibowitz and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe as well as the current Renée Cox show,” says Della Watkins, CMA executive director. “Imogen Cunningham led the way for these powerful artists. We’re thrilled to offer visitors an opportunity to see some of the best photography of the 20th century.”

Born in 1883 in Portland, Oregon, Cunningham took up photography in 1901, a mere 62 years after Daguerre invented it. In its early days, the camera was perceived as a copy machine, a tool that served to document what the eye could see. In the early 20th century, some photographers, Cunningham included, moved toward a form of photography that ceased to mimic painting for its legitimacy and embraced its potential to visually capture life’s fleeting moments.

Already a well-recognized professional photographer by 1932, Cunningham, along with a group of like-minded revolutionaries, formed Group f.64 in California. The name, derived from the smallest aperture available on a large format camera, implies images with the greatest depth of focus and sharpest detail. The original members were Cunningham, Ansel Adams, John Edward, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston. Proponents of “straight” photography, or unmanipulated images of clear forms, their goal was to produce photographs that utilized the full technical capabilities of the camera and were contact printed without enlargement or retouching. Though Group f.64 was short-lived, disbanding in 1935, it had a profound and lasting influence on photography across the country.

“Imogen Cunningham is among a group of pioneers who understood that what the artist selected to photograph, out of the infinite possibilities around her, was an artistic act,” says Will South, CMA chief curator. “She was absolutely instrumental in the struggle for the acceptance of photography as a legitimate art form.”

Cunningham was an extraordinary technician who produced deeply poetic work. In her 75 active years, her subjects included botanical studies, urban scenes, nudes, and portraiture. She photographed Hollywood stars including Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy—sans makeup, at her insistence—and cultural luminaries such as Martha Graham, Frida Kahlo, and Man Ray. She shot Alfred Stieglitz, the polarizing prophet of photography himself, with his own camera. She captured Yosemite National Park and New York’s Chinatown. She was a social activist, documenting the beat movement of the 1950s and the countercultural revolution of the late 1960s. She trained her talented eye on flora and fauna, artistry and industry, strangers and loved ones. She experimented with pictorialism and precisionism. Throughout her career, Cunningham valued the importance of light, form, and pattern in her compositions. Her pioneering use of platinum printing and often of double exposures are still of interest to contemporary photographers. No matter the subject, the honesty and empathy with which she approached it shone through.

“Imogen is a photographer who looked thoughtfully at the 20th century and showed it back to us,” says South. “She is an artist well worth meeting, whether for the first time or not, to rediscover many of the special moments that have made up our world.”

Free admission to this exhibition for Midlands-area college students with valid ID is made possible through funds provided by the Central Carolina Community Foundation.

Seen & Unseen: Photographs by Imogen Cunningham is presented through the generosity of our sponsors and grantors. Presenting Sponsors: Dr. Suzan D. Boyd and Mr. M. Edward Sellers. Contributing Sponsors: Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP. Friend Sponsors: AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, Theodore and Margaret Anne DuBose. Patron Sponsors: Dr. Jeffrey J. Kline, Mr. Bill Schmidt, Mr. and Mrs. David E. Dukes, and Zoës Kitchen. Additional support from Sheila and Tony DiCioccio. Media Sponsors: Free Times, WXRY, and Grace Outdoor. Grantors: Richland County and Central Carolina Community Foundation. Support for the CMA exhibition program is provided by Lipscomb Sponsors: Mrs. Marcia Stine and Dr. Lynn Robertson.

The exhibition was organized by the Imogen Cunningham Trust in association with Photographic Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA.

Upcoming Seen & Unseen Programs and Activities:
Free and Ongoing: February 2 – April 29, 2018

Multimedia TAP Tour available on computers, smartphones, or on iPads provided by the CMA.
Gallery Tour every Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

Evening for Educators
Wednesday, January 31 | 4:30 – 6:30 p.m.
Educators from across the state are invited to join the CMA for an evening of art, wine, nibbles, and a talk on pioneering photographer Imogen Cunningham with University of South Carolina professor Kathleen Robbins. Explore Seen and Unseen: Photographs by Imogen Cunningham before opening day. Participants make connections with this exhibition through hands-on studio lesson plans. Attendees will also receive documentation for professional development renewal credit. Sponsored by Colonial Life. Free. Registration required as space is limited.

First Thursday on Main at the CMA
Thursday, February 1 | 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Enjoy a 6:00 p.m. gallery tour of Renée Cox: Soul Culture. FUSE Artist Alliance gives a dance performance in the lobby at 6:00 p.m. Have a laugh with an improv show from The Mothers, a sketch comedy troupe from Trustus Theatre at 6:30p.m. Get a sneak peek at 7:00 p.m. of the newest exhibition Seen & Unseen: Photographs by Imogen Cunningham and join us for the opening lecture with CMA curator Will South at 7:30 p.m. Cash bar. Plus, the CMA Shop is offering 15% off all jewelry purchases for Valentine’s Day. Complimentary gift wrap for all Valentine’s gifts. This project is supported by a Connected Communities grant from Central Carolina Community Foundation.

Gladys’ Gang: All in Black and White
Tuesday, February 7 | 10:00 – 11:00 a.m.
Day and night, black and white. Some works of art are really colorful, and some have only one or two hues. Join us to explore the way photographers like Imogen Cunningham captured different shades as we create our own monochromatic masterpieces. This program includes story time and a creative studio activity related to the art exploration theme. Key topic: opposites. Free. Registration is required as space is limited.

CMA Global Sunday:
Join the CMA as we pair a specially expanded Passport to Art with our Baker & Baker concert series to create a Sunday focused on global music and art. In this program with a unique world perspective, families have the chance to participate in hands-on art projects with their loved ones and enjoy concerts featuring musicians with international style.

Passport to Art: Artistic Expedition
Sunday, February 11 | Noon – 3:00 p.m.
In this month’s expanded Passport to Art, take a journey through the world without leaving Columbia. Get inspired by African fractal design in Renée Cox: Soul Culture and create some scratchboard patterns. Make flower crowns, based on some of the botanicals in Seen & Unseen: Photographs by Imogen Cunningham, and sport them in the “Gone Global” selfie booth. At 1:00 p.m. we’ll take a tour of the photography on exhibition. Don’t forget to make a cyanotype with your family and create photographic blue prints. This drop-in program for families features a new hands-on art project each month. Free.

Baker & Baker presents The Reminders
Sunday, February 11 | 3:00 p.m.
Consisting of Brussels-born Big Samir and Queens-born Aja Black, The Reminders are a duo that combines world music rhythm with hip-hop. Big Samir weaves intricate rhythmic patterns with a bilingual French/English flow, displaying his street-smart credibility in both his lyrics and cool demeanor. This is beautifully complimented by Aja Black's confident delivery, diverse cadences, and unique vocal stylings. The two have undeniably magical chemistry. Free.

For more information, visit columbiamuseum.org/exhibitions/seen-unseen.