Photographers often turn the camera lens on themselves and their colleagues, creating self-referential images with layered meaning. The photographer, aware of the "role" of the subject and the way a viewer will read meaning into the image, knows that no image can be taken at face value -- so in these images the viewer is faced with the presence (and intent) of two photographers, one as the taker of the image, and the other as subject.
The chosen subjects in these images by Alma Lavenson and Imogen Cunningham are not unusual, but the photographs share more in common than simply the use of photographer as subject.
Lavenson and Cunningham were pivotal in defining modern photography on the West Coast: both were involved with the F/64 group, advocating pure, unmanipulated photography.
Cunningham played a central role in the group as a founding member, while Lavenson was not a member but was invited to exhibit with the group on several occasions. The two photogrphers knew one another, and shared a mutual respect, evident in Lavenson's Portrait of Imogen Cunningham.
Lavenson is not best known for her portraits, nor is her Portrait of Imogen Cunningham typical of portraiture -- it is a seemingly casual recording of Cunningham at work. Lavenson's primary photographic interest was in geometric forms and structures, and these do appear in her image of Cunningham. She portrays Cunningham in the midst of taking a photograph, possibly one of her famous plant compositions. By depicting the artist at work, Lavenson is reinforcing her view of Cunningham as photographer and mentor.
Cunningham's portrait work tends to focus on the individual, whose personality she attempts to render on film. This is the case in the portrait by Imogen Cunningham depicting Margery Mann (above, Imogen Cunningham, Margery Mann, 1971), a photographer and photography historian.
As an historian, Mann wrote the introduction to a monograph of Cunningham's work: Imogen Cunningham: Photographs. So here the image, a very formal direct and respectful depiction, reveals the woman responsible for Cunningham's extensive biography. In its straight-on formality the image reveals a mutual respect between the photographer and the subject.
All images are copyright by the artist or by UC Regents, 1999, all rights reserved.