In an age when few women could freely choose either a career or parenthood, Imogen Cunningham chose both. Considered one of the twentieth century’s most innovative photographers, Cunningham worked from home. She raised her three sons, who often appeared in her pictures.
In Imogen: The Mother of Modernism and Three Boys, Amy Novesky and illustrator Lisa Congdon tell Cunningham’s story. Novesky’s beautifully understated prose transports readers from the artist’s hardscrabble childhood to her busy life as a mother and photographer. Much of Cunninham’s oeuvre illuminated the beauty in everyday life – a child holding a small bird, the lines on an aged face, the petals of a magnolia blossom – and Congdon’s work reflects this. In some spreads, she juxtaposes paintings, framed photography-style, which show the sorts of subjects Imogen used. Congdon’s illustrations render even ordinary kitchen objects remarkable: a ketchup jar catches readers’ eyes, and a blue colander is almost iridescent, touches Cunningham herself would surely have loved.
“You can’t expect things to be smooth and easy and beautiful,” Imogen Cunningham once said. Both the beginning and end of Novesky’s narrative reference this bit of wisdom. But sometimes, as Cunningham herself would no doubt agree, unremarkable things are beautiful, and Imogen should help kids recognize this.
-Dorothy A. Dahm