IMOGEN CUNNINGHAM (1883-1976) Shell Collection 3. Silver print, the image measuring 7 1/2x9 3/8 inches (19.1x23.8 cm.), the mount 18x15 inches (45.7x38.1 cm.), with Cunningham's signature, in pencil, on mount recto, and her 4540 Harbor View, Oakland, California label and stylized "eye" hand stamp, on mount verso. Circa 1930
Cunningham's "Shell Collection 3" features an array of textures and values, including detail-rich dark grays and blacks and luminous, glittering highlights. Cunningham's approach in this elegant still life is emblematic of the modernist aesthetic that she is known for and championed, and also a work that hints at abundance, one that is evocatively sensual. This duality characterizes much of her work.
Cunningham's earliest photography was Pictorialist in nature, but after a 1923 meeting with Edward Weston, she began to favor a modernist approach. Her flora and fauna studies of the 1920s and 30s are often associated with this shift. These distinctly rendered, close up, elemental, and lush renderings of plant life were first shown in the landmark Film und Foto exhibit in Stuttgart in 1929. By 1932 she would be a charter member of the West Coast Group f.64, whose members favored sharp, unfiltered, and unmanipulated imagery. Their direct, or "straight," photographic approach eschewed compositional manipulation in favor of recording, and certainly this influence can be seen in "Shell Collection."
However, Cunningham explored other photographic styles and subjects throughout her long career. "I photograph anything that can be exposed to light," she said, and indeed here her apparent desire to look closely from all angles and translate to photographic paper form, light, and shape, hints at an emotional appreciation for form and abstraction.