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The Women of Group f/64

By Abigail Bekx. Feb 20, 2019. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Rare Book Gift Ideas

In 1932, Ansel Adams and ten other photographers, announced their formation of Group f/64, a group devoted to straight photography and sharp focus images. It was Edward Weston and Ansel Adams at the center of the group, helping bring the group’s ideals to national attention. They adopted the name Group f/64 in reference to the smallest aperture available for large-format view cameras, which allows the picture to achieve as sharp of focus as possible. As a whole, the group focused on landscapes or close-up photographs of natural subjects. Despite differences in subjects and personal style, their efforts to perfectly show the exact features of their subjects brought them together in a shared venture. While not all official members of Group f/64, the female photographers showing their work in the first exhibit are especially interesting. Each possessed their own style, journey, and place in the history of photography. 

Dream_Imogen_Cunningham_1910The Dream (also known as Nei-san-Koburi) by Imogen Cunningham, 1910

Imogen Cunningham

Known by her friends to have a dual personality, one emotional and one acidic, Imogen Cunningham’s duality was often seen in her photography. Her earlier work tends to reflect her more emotional side with portraits and allegorical studies, while her tougher side can be seen in her still lifes and landscapes. Inspired to pursue photography at a young age by Gertrude Kasebierm, Cunningham’s early work, staged as allegorical studies, was hallmarked by her use of soft focus. As she grew as a photographer and experimented with different styles, portraiture became her specialty. Eventually, she left the soft focus of her early work behind in favor of a sharper, crisper style. Over the rest of her career, Cunningham continued to experiment with different forms and ideas of modernist photography.  

Sonya Noskowiak 

Sonya Noskowiak first expressed her intention to be a photographer while she was working as an assistant for photographer Johan Hagemeyer, but it was not until she started dating photographer Edward Weston that she began to learn how to photograph. Weston gave Noskowiak her first professional camera and began teaching her without film. When she started photographing with film, Noskowiak adapted Weston’s subjects to fit her own style, influencing Weston just as he influenced her. Much of her early work focused on close-up botanical photographs, while her later work consisted more of landscapes and portraits. On a trip to New Mexico with Weston and Willard Van Dyke, Noskowiak started to develop her landscapes, impressing her traveling companions by the skills she exhibited. She further developed her interest in landscape photography when she was hired by the New Deal to help chronicle the Great Depression in California. Unfortunately, despite being talented in her own right, much of Noskowiak’s work was no longer discussed by her contemporaries after she and Weston ended their relationship, causing little to be written about her outside of her relationship and her prints to be rare. 

Alma Lavenson 

Like many photographers of her time, Alma Lavenson started her career focusing on pictorialism and used a soft-focus lens. A family friend gave Lavenson letters of introduction to both Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston. In Cunningham, Lavenson found a friend and her greatest influence, while in Weston, she found the encouragement to switch to a sharp focus lens. Her remaining attachment to pictorialism, however, lead some to question if she should be considered a member of Group f/64. Throughout her work, she emphasized the subject’s form and pattern by focusing on the light and shadow of her photographs. Her extensive exhibits and book helped Lavenson establish her place as a photographer.  

Consuelo_Kanaga_(American,_1894-1978)._Frances_with_a_Flower,_early_1930sFrances with a Flower by Consuelo Kanaga, 1930s

Consuelo Kanaga 

Considered one of the foremost female photographers of her time, Consuelo Kanaga cites that her work was largely influenced by when she was young and studying the work of Steichen and Stieglitz. Before starting work as a photographer, Kanaga worked as a reporter and feature writer for The San Francisco Chronicle, where she eventually moved to the photography department. She became friends with Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston, allowing for her inclusion in the first Group f/64 exhibit as an unofficial member. When Kanaga moved to New York, she took a position as a photographer for The New York American. The focus of her photography was on social inequalities, especially the difficulties faced by African Americans and migrant workers. The subtlety of her work that she became known for helped her photojournalism remain powerful and relevant.   

Browse Books of Legendary Photographers

Sources: 

Alma Lavenson. (n.d.). Retrieved Dec. 30, 2018, here.
 
Campbell, Barbara. (Mar. 2, 1978). Consuelo Kanaga, Photographer, Dies. Retrieved Dec. 30, 2018, here.
 
Hostetler, Lisa. (Oct. 2004). Group f/64. Retrieved Dec. 30, 2018, here. Imogen Cunningham. (n.d.). Retrieved Dec. 30, 2018, here.
 
Portrait Spotlight: Consuelo Kanaga. (n.d.). Retrieved Dec. 30, 2018, here.
 
Turnage, Robert. (Mar. 4, 1980). Ansel Adams: The Role of the Artist in the Environmental Movement. Retrieved Dec. 30, 2018, here.
 
Turnage, Willian. (July 17, 2016). Ansel Adams, Photographer. Retrieved Dec. 30, 2018, here.
 
Tedford, Matthew Harrison. (Apr. 6, 2015). Sonya Noskowiak: A Groundbreaking but Forgotten Photographer. Retrieved Dec. 30, 2018, here.

Abigail Bekx
Reader, writer, and grammar nerd. Loves reading Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Brontë, and forcing her family to listen to her rants on how books are better than movies.

 

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