Calder Smartphone Tour: Group of Photos

By the 1950s, Alexander Calder had established himself as an internationally renowned artist. Although the public perceived him as a social butterfly, he preferred to work in his Roxbury, Connecticut studio alone and in silence. Few outsiders were granted access to the artist’s workspace. Among them, however, was acclaimed photojournalist and filmmaker Gordon Parks.

Parks visited Calder in his home and studio in 1952 on assignment for Life magazine. That year, Calder represented the United States at the 26th Venice Biennale, an international exposition that highlights global artistic achievements. This photograph, featuring a mobile now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is one of several images that were taken by Parks for the August 25, 1952, issue of the magazine. The accompanying story celebrated Calder’s winning of the biennale’s grand prize for sculpture.

Learn more about this work and two other photographs of Calder in his studio by tuning in to the seventh stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM. The full tour is available to explore on your own time via our SoundCloud or in our galleries by scanning the QR code next to select works in the exhibition.

Group of Photos: Calder Installing Gamma (1947), Alexander Calder, Roxbury Ct. (1957), and Alexander Calder (1952)

NARRATOR: These three photographs offer an intimate glimpse of Calder at work. 

Let’s focus on the image to the far right of the group. It was taken by the important photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks in 1952. That year, Calder had been selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. Curator José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: The Venice Biennale is sort of the Olympics of the art world where artists are chosen to represent their countries, and Calder actually won the Grand Prize that year.

This photo was taken for the August 25, 1952, issue of Life magazine and features Calder not installing an exhibition at the Venice Biennale but actually in his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. This was a very private space, and for Life magazine—or really the American public—to see the artist behind the scenes would have been really captivating at the time.

NARRATOR: For artist Kennedy Yanko, the photographs offer a different perspective on the work.

KENNEDY YANKO: When you typically see Calder’s work, you’re looking up and you’re looking around. So your entire physical gesture and exploration of it changes. But you can see here how different it is when he’s so close to it and how he’s experienced it in the making. He’s living within the work, and he’s living within the sculpture, and I think that that’s what allowed all of these monumental sculptures to kind of continue to carry us. That sense of life and that sense of curiosity is how deeply immersed and present he was inside of the pieces.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

SAM Talks: Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems

One of the most exciting parts of hosting contemporary art exhibitions is the opportunity to welcome living and working artists to SAM to reflect on their artwork and careers directly with audiences. Throughout the three month run of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue at SAM, we had the honor of welcoming both artists to SAM for conversations on their friendship, artistic processes, and collaborative exhibition.

If you weren’t able to get tickets to see their talks in person, you can now watch both conversations on our YouTube. Check out both conversations below for even more supplemental context following your visit to In Dialogue and be sure to catch the exhibition before it closes Sunday, January 22 at SAM!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: L. Fried.

#SAMPhotoClub Family & Community Spotlight: Alborz Kamalizad

SAM Photo Club is almost over! With Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue closing at SAM this Sunday, January 22, we are accepting the final photo submissions to the third defining theme and motif of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: family & community.

To incentivize you to get your last-minute submissions in and join SAM Photo Club, we’re featuring some of the family & community photos taken by SAM’s two staff photographers: Alborz Kamalizad and Chloe Collyer. Outside of photographing all SAM events, exhibitions, installations, programs, and more, Alborz and Chloe are also working professionals. Browse through a few photos taken by Alborz of their family and community below, then discover which of Carrie Mae Weems’s photographs on view in SAM’s exhibition resonates with him.

Family & Community, 2021–2022

My family emigrated from Iran when I was three years old. This made me young enough to easily assimilate into American culture. But even though the bulk of my cultural connections are American, there is Iranian culture swirling inside me as well — culture that is usually easy to ignore while walking through an American life.

With a project I’m calling Rebuilding Babel I have friends engage with artifacts of my familial culture. These objects, which are mostly meaningless to them, render the images inaccurate to who they are. Instead, these photos of friends portray a relationship between my own American and Iranian selves.

The current humanitarian crisis in Iran, as people fight for freedom and equality, has underscored both my connection to and separation from the culture I was born in.

Untitled (Woman with Daughter and Children), Carrie Mae Weems, 1990

Walking into the space where The Kitchen Table series is displayed at the Seattle Art Museum feels like walking into the middle of someone’s psyche. It’s intimate. It’s a real testament to the need to experience photography in person. Moving your body from image to image while they transport you through time cannot be experienced on a screen.

Alborz Kamalizad (he/him) is a visual artist who moves between photography, animation, documentary filmmaking, and illustration. He was born in Iran, raised in the US, and currently works as a staff photographer for the Seattle Art Museum. As a visual journalist and photographer, his work has been featured by Los Angeles’s NPR affiliate, Mother Jones Magazine, the United Nations, The Nature Conservancy, MasterClass, and the Getty.

Participate in #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own family & community on Instagram and tagging us through Friday, January 20. Once the window for submissions closes, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: Untitled (Woman with Daughter and Children), Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953. Untitled (Woman and daughter with children). Kitchen Table Series. Gelatin silver print. 1990. 40 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

SAM’s Teen Arts Group Meets Artist Dawoud Bey

On a fall day last November, 16 members of SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) gathered around the craft tables of the museum’s Nordstrom Art Studio. Today, instead of making art, they’d be talking art with one of the most significant artists working today, Dawoud Bey.

Bey had traveled to Seattle for SAM’s presentation of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, an exhibition that brings together the work of the two friends and mutual inspirations for the first time. Bey would be giving a public talk that evening, but during the day, he generously met with these future artists and leaders.

Founded in 2007, TAG is an intensive program for high school-aged youth who are interested in learning about themselves and the world through art. The program cultivates the voice and leadership of diverse young people who share their passion for the power of art to build community. The group comes together in weekly meetings from October to May, learning about the behind-the-scenes work of the museum, making art, and leading tours. Their work culminates in Teen Night Out, a free teens-only event held in May with DJs, live music performances, art tours, workshops, and art-making activities.

Bey talked with the teens about his relationship with art and photography when he was their age and how his passion for music as a young man influenced the way he would make art more than 30 years later. Artists in their own right, TAG members were eager to learn about Bey’s thought process as he positioned a model for his portraits. He revealed that he only ever accentuated a pose or gesture the person was already doing naturally. Bey illustrated the point with program intern Karla Pastrana, encouraging her to bring her relaxed arm more forward for the sake of the shot.

Left to Right: Lila, Sreshta, Cris, Kaz, Faith, Charlotte, Gwyneth, Dawoud Bey, Ronan, Mori, Corrina, Nivedita, Smriti, and Lylah.

Here are some reflections from various TAG members on the experience of meeting Dawoud Bey:

“It was an amazing opportunity to meet an artist like Dawoud Bey in person. It was really cool to get to hear about his story, creative process, and inspirations. I’m personally interested in the arts and museum industry myself so his advice was really insightful and inspiring.”

– Charlotte, 16

“My first impression was that he was a very thoughtful person. He took his time when he sought to communicate something, and did so with purpose. That careful observance was weaved into each of his photographs.”

– Sreshta, 17

“Meeting Dawoud Bey was inspiring for me because we had the opportunity to ask about his life and artistic process. I thought it was interesting to hear about what he was doing when he was a teenager and how he got into the art world by getting his first camera when he was a teen. Getting to talk to an artist like Dawoud Bey, who is so amazing and accomplished, is really incredible because it’s really easy to idolize artists, which they should be, but it’s important to remember that they are people and they started as teens just like us.”

– Lila, 15

Hot tip: Want to join TAG? Applications to join the 2023–24 TAG cohort will be available in spring 2023. Follow @samteens on Instagram for the latest updates!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo Credit: Alborz Kamalizad.

#SAMPhotoClub Family & Community Spotlight: Chloe Collyer

The third theme of SAM Photo Club is in full swing! With Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue closing at SAM on Sunday, January 22, we’re now accepting photo submissions to the final of three defining motifs of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: family & community.

As inspiration to post your own photo and join SAM Photo Club, we’re spotlighting some of the family & community photos taken by SAM’s two staff photographers: Chloe Collyer and Alborz Kamalizad. Outside of photographing all SAM events, exhibitions, installations, programs, and more, they’re also working professionals. Scroll down to browse through a few photos taken by Chloe of their family and community and learn which of Dawoud Bey’s photographs on view in SAM’s exhibition inspires them the most!

Mom and Dogs, 2016

My family is a jumble of genetic relations and adopted relatives. I was raised by my biological mother and her parents, all four of us born and raised in Seattle, WA. My grandparents are Maddog and Robyn Collyer; two animals that probably shouldn’t nest together but somehow find a balance. My grandad is a funny prankster, a songwriter who plays piano, bass, guitar and for some reason collects flashlights. My grandma is a soft spoken Jeopardy genius and angelic in every way.

Maddog at Night, 2019

Cribbage with Grandparents, 2022

Friends in Laughter, 2022

My oldest friend is my godbrother Ardent has been by my side since sixth grade. We are stuck together for life. He is my most reliable comedian, hype man and supporter over the years.

The Birmingham Project: Wallace Simmons and Eric Allums, 2012

Another symmetrically balanced image from Bey, this time balancing two generations of the African American community in a mirrored image. The poses match, the light source reversed in each side of the diptych. It’s a timeless, solemn memorial to the loss of young life in Birmingham 1963. It’s one of my favorite images of all time.

Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a photographer, journalist, and fifth-generation Seattle resident whose work is deeply connected to the history and communities of the Pacific Northwest. A natural born documentarian, their toolkit includes 15+ years behind the camera, an associate’s degree in commercial photography, and seven years of experience working as a photojournalist and photo editor. In addition to working as a staff photographer at the Seattle Art Museum, Chloe also teaches photography at Youth in Focus and Photo Center Northwest, and has had their work featured in The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, NPR, Buzzfeed, Real Change, Crosscut, and more.

Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own family & community photography on Instagram and tagging us before January 20. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: The Birmingham Project: Wallace Simmons and Eric Allums, 2012, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, archival pigment prints mounted to dibond, 40 x 64 inches (two separate 40 x 32 inch photographs), © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

#SAMPhotoClub Street Photography Spotlight: Alborz Kamalizad

Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue closes in less than one month at SAM! While the exhibition is on view, we’re launching #SAMPhotoClub, an Instagram campaign that asks our followers to share their favorite photographs inspired by three common motifs of these legendary American artists.

We’re now accepting submissions to the second theme of SAM Photo Club: street photography. As a way to inspire continued participation, we’re spotlighting a few street photos taken by SAM’s staff photographers Alborz Kamalizad and Chloe Collyer. Read below to see a selection of Alborz’s favorite street photographs and discover which of Carrie Mae Weems’s street images has stuck with him the most.

Street Photography, 2021–2022

Photographer Jeff Wall has said that he thinks of the snapshot as the most fundamental type of photography, and that every other photograph derives meaning by its relationship to the snapshot. I like to think about this when I’m out in public with a camera. My street photos take about as much deliberation as a snapshot: they’re instinctive and quick. But through the combination of subject matter and composition, I hope to create a gentle feeling around what city life is like.

The things that consistently draw my eye:

1. How a camera can render the many different scales of reality that exist in and around a modern city. A deep valley becomes texture. The base of a lamppost feels monumental. Buildings and signs turn into abstractions.

2. Little signs of fleeting humanity. Walking through a city we’re surrounded by other people, yes. But there is also so much evidence for things that have already happened — signs of people we did not see. I’m drawn to these tiny stories. Likewise, there are people caught at a distance or in the middle of moments that are just slightly difficult to understand because we’ve somehow missed the essence of whatever set them in motion.

In either case, I’m drawn to the infinity of possibility in a city.

Harlem Street, Carrie Mae Weems, 1976–77

This photo perfectly balances spontaneity and almost mathematical precision. The straight-on view of the buildings (probably from the middle of the street?) makes a grid-like background out of doors, windows, bricks, stairs, and the vendor’s signage. Meanwhile, the people are in an utterly casual moment of everyday life.

Alborz Kamalizad (he/him) is a visual artist who moves between photography, animation, documentary filmmaking, and illustration. He was born in Iran, raised in the US, and currently works as a staff photographer for the Seattle Art Museum. As a visual journalist and photographer, his work has been featured by Los Angeles’s NPR affiliate, Mother Jones Magazine, the United Nations, The Nature Conservancy, MasterClass, and the Getty.

Participate in #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own street photo on Instagram and tagging us through Friday, December 20. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions for our final themes—family & community photography—later this week.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: Harlem Street, 1976–77, Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 5 5/16 x 8 15/16 inches, © Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Dawoud Bey: Photography that Keeps History Alive

The lens can be used all kinds of ways… Not just affirm or confirm the thing in front of the camera, but for my purposes, to actually reshape it in a subjective way.

– Dawoud Bey

How can photography be used to amplify Black voices in America? To commemorate the opening of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue at SAM, we sat down with renowned American photographer Dawoud Bey to ask this question, talk about his friendship with Carrie Mae Weems, and discuss the significance of showing their photographs in conversation. Watch the video now to hear Bey reflect on what it means to break artistic hierarchies, bring history into our modern era, and tell the complex and powerful stories of Black Americans through a single frame. Don’t miss your chance to experience this limited-run exhibition at SAM before it closes on January 22—get your tickets before it’s too late!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image Credits: Image Credits: “The Birmingham Project: Imani Richardson and Carolyn Mickel,” 2012, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, archival pigment prints mounted to dibond, 41 x 65 ½ inches (two separate 40 x 32 inch photographs), © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Rennie Collection, Vancouver. “The Birmingham Project: Timothy Huffman and Ira Sims,” 2012, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, archival pigment prints mounted to dibond, 41 x 65 1/2 inches (two separate 40 x 32 inch photographs), © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Rennie Collection, Vancouver. “Girls, Ornaments, and Vacant Lot, Harlem, NY,” from the series “Harlem Redux,” 2016, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, archival pigment print, 40 x 48 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Two Women at a Parade,” 1978, printed by 1979, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, gelatin silver print, 16 5/8 x 20 5/8 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 2018.21. “Man on the B26 Bus, New York, NY,” 1986, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Young Man with his Hairbrush, Rochester, NY,” 1989, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 30 5/16 x 25 5/16 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Young Man at a Tent Revival, Brooklyn, NY,” 1989, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 30 5/16 x 25 5/16 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Young Girl Striking a Pose, Brooklyn, NY,” 1988, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, gelatin silver print, 24 x 20 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. “Peg’s Grandson,” Brooklyn, NY, 1988, Dawoud Bey, American, b. 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

#SAMPhotoClub Street Photography Spotlight: Chloe Collyer

While Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (November 17–January 20) is on view at SAM, we’re announcing photography submissions to three of the defining motifs of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family & community.

With submissions to the second theme of SAM Photo Club—street photography—now open, we’re taking this time to spotlight the artwork of SAM’s two staff photographers: Chloe Collyer and Alborz Kamalizad. Although both photo-based artists are responsible for capturing all events, exhibitions, installations, programs, and more across all three SAM locations, they’re also working professionals too! Scroll down to browse through Chloe’s favorite street photos they’ve taken and learn which of Dawoud Bey’s street photographs on view in SAM’s exhibition inspires them the most!

Louis Mendes, NYC, 2016

A cherished portrait from when I met Louis Mendes, a legend in the photo world, outside of B&H in Manhattan. Famous for his lifetime dedication to polaroid street portraits in NYC, Mendes was nice enough to talk about film cameras with me and posed when I asked for his portrait. He seemed impressed by me and he took my photo free of charge.

Martin Luther King Day, 2020

Seattle is located in King County, the only jurisdiction in the USA named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so it seems fitting that documenting our annual MLK rally is a tradition for me. Documenting Seattle’s annual MLK and May Day marches are part of what shaped my eye and ethics as an emerging photographer. These events can be chaotic. I use my racing thoughts like a superpower and try to keep my eyes darting and my hands turning camera dials as needed. When I walk the streets of Seattle I think about the five generations of my ancestors who walked the same streets and the Native families who lived on this coast before that. When I document protests in Seattle streets, I think of C.H.O.P 2020 and of the 1999 WTO protests.

May Day Aztec Girl, 2018

The youngest member of CeAtl Tonalli, a traditional Aztec dance group, leads the annual May Day labor march in Seattle, Washington, 2018.

“Black Lives Matter” Black Friday,  2015

After the tragically preventable deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, various groups across the nation chose Black Friday as a day of protest for Black lives. Black Friday 2015 was the first time I remember hearing “Black Lives Matter” at a rally. 

Honor and Memory, 2021

At the height of the COVID 19, family members and allies of the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) gather in Seattle’s southend to show the intersectionality of issues effecting Native and Black communities like substance abuse, police violence, domestic abuse and the pandemic.

Day 1, 2020

The Friday after George Floyd’s death I heard the sounds of protest outside my window and joined a crowd facing off police. This turned out to be day one of over 100 days of continuous protest in Seattle. I documented almost every day.

White Coats for Black Lives, 2020

On June 6, 2020 thousands of Seattle’s healthcare workers, medical students, and citizens marched to raise awareness of racism in healthcare.

Southend BLM March, 2020 

A march through Seattle’s Southend on June 7, 2020 brought thousands of people of all ages into the streets to call for justice for George Floyd and others killed by police. 

High School Protests, 2016

Seattle high school students walk out of class to protest the threat to DACA posed by the newly appointed Trump administration in September 2016.

A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, Dawoud Bey, 1988

Is there anything more perfect than a slightly imperfect image? This photo reminds me of portraits by the photographer Steve McCurry including Afghan Girl from an infamous cover of National Geographic in 1984. Empathetic eye contact. This composition is so stable and balanced, it makes me feel extremely comfortable and yet the misalignment of the subjects eyes is impossibly imperfect. 

Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a photographer, journalist, and fifth-generation Seattle resident whose work is deeply connected to the history and communities of the Pacific Northwest. A natural born documentarian, their toolkit includes 15+ years behind the camera, an associate’s degree in commercial photography, and seven years of experience working as a photojournalist and photo editor. In addition to working as a staff photographer at the Seattle Art Museum, Chloe also teaches photography at Youth in Focus and Photo Center Northwest, and has had their work featured in The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, NPR, Buzzfeed, Real Change, Crosscut, and more.

Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own street photography on Instagram and tagging us before December 30. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions to our final theme—family & community photography—in the coming weeks.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

#SAMPhotoClub Self-Portrait Spotlight: SAM Photographer Alborz Kamalizad

SAM’s photographers are getting in on the fun of SAM Photo Club too! While Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (November 17, 2022–January 20, 2023) is on view at SAM, we’re announcing photography submissions to three of the defining motifs of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family & community.

Submissions to our first theme, self-portraits, are now open and will close this Friday, December 9. As we continue to round up submissions received from SAM’s Instagram community, we’re taking this time to highlight a few self-portraits by SAM staff photographer Alborz Kamalizad and asking him to share his favorite portrait by either Dawoud Bey or Carrie Mae Weems.

Self-Portrait, 2022

For me, self-portraiture is a strange photographic endeavor — in order to make a self-portrait a painter or sculptor doesn’t (and can’t) physically get out in front of their own art-making process like a photographer can (and has to). I’ve never tried to make self-portraits before so the #SAMPhotoClub presented a good reason to try. It was a daunting task at first, so I decided to think of a theme to bounce off of to help me get started.

I’ve recently relocated to the Seattle area from Los Angeles so where I am physically and the idea of “home” is top of mind. I’ve also been working on a separate photo project that has to do with our relationship with, and distance from, the natural world. With those two broad ideas in mind, an off-camera flash, and a self-timer on the camera shutter, I created these.

Self and Shadow, New York, NY, 1980, Dawoud Bey, 1980

It’s reassuring that probably everyone who’s ever had a camera in their hands has at some point taken a picture of their own shadow. These photographs aren’t only self-portraits, they also capture the presence of the camera, where the person is, and the sun. All are in perfect physical alignment.

Alborz Kamalizad (he/him) is a visual artist who moves between photography, animation, documentary filmmaking, and illustration. He was born in Iran, raised in the US, and currently works as a staff photographer for the Seattle Art Museum. As a visual journalist and photographer, his work has been featured by Los Angeles’s NPR affiliate, Mother Jones Magazine, the United Nations, The Nature Conservancy, MasterClass, and the Getty.

Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own self-portrait on Instagram and tagging us through December 9. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions for our next two themes—street photography and family & community photography—in the coming weeks.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: Self and Shadow, New York, NY, 1980, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Muse/News: Inspiration of Ambition, Artist Amends, and Wautier’s Moment

SAM News

Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is now on view at SAM! Jerald Pierce of the Seattle Times shared highlights from the exhibition’s themes alongside photos by Erika Schultz. The review also appeared in the paper’s Sunday print edition. 

“Over the decades, these two artists have become known for their explorations of Black life in America, melding history with the present through intimate portraits, thoughtful landscapes and carefully crafted visual storytelling. Bey called their friendship a kind of “inspiration of ambition,” where the two photographers inspired each other to push the boundaries of their medium as they’ve watched photography evolve over the decades.”

The exhibition was also featured in the digital weekly Air Mail. 

And don’t miss Arte Noir’s interview with artist Inye Wokoma about his curatorial project as part of American Art: The Stories We Carry, also on view at SAM.

“I want people to see the gallery as an interrogation of the complexities of our personal and political relationships. Contemporary relationships that are often born of brutal histories.”

Local News

“Brings down the house with every number”: The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce also loved The Wiz at the 5th Avenue Theatre and thinks you should see it.

“Minimalist pleasures in a maximalist holiday season”: Here’s Brangien Davis’s most recent ArtSEA dispatch of what to see.

Evelyn Archibald for The Daily on Amends, Miha Sahari’s solo show on the University of Washington campus. 

“A core theme of Amends is the nature of past, present, and future. The artist revisits his home in many pieces, whether it be the portraits of his family, the cultural icons of Slovenia, or subconscious influence from his life in the Balkans.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone on Eyes on Iran, a new public art installation “inspired by the ongoing women’s rights protest movement in Iran” that debuted recently at New York’s Roosevelt Island. One of the participating artists is Shirin Neshat; you can read more about her art and activism in this reflection by SAM staff photographer Alborz Kamalizad. 

Erin L. Thompson for Hyperallergic shares stories of the Red Orchestra, a group of young German artists who resisted Hitler. 

Milton Esterow of The New York Times reviews the first US exhibition of the work of 17th-century painter Michaelina Wautier, which is now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. A work by Wautier is a beloved painting in SAM’s European collection—you can learn more about Boys Blowing Bubbles in this 2018 SAM Blog story

“The Boston show, said Marisa Anne Bass, a professor of art history at Yale University, ‘is part of a broader and important trend in scholarship on early modern European art, which no longer treats the recuperation of women artists as an end in itself but instead increasingly aims to recognize the central role of women as actors, thinkers and creators. To give women equal historical representation is not just about answering the concerns about the present. It is also about gaining a fuller understanding of the past.’”

And Finally

Sight and Sound is out once again with its list of the “Greatest Films of All Time.” DISCUSS. 

 Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

#SAMPhotoClub Self-Portrait Spotlight: SAM Photographer Chloe Collyer

Amateur photographers, professional photographers, with a camera, or with an iPhone—#SAMPhotoClub is for everyone! While Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (November 17, 2022–January 20, 2023) is on view at SAM, we’re announcing photography submissions to three of the defining motifs of both of these legendary photographers’ careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family & community.

Submissions to our first theme, self-portraits, are now open, and we’re taking the opportunity to highlight a few self-portraits by SAM’s staff photographers and also asking them to offer some insight into their favorite portraits by Dawoud Bey or Carrie Mae Weems. First up: Chloe Collyer!

Camera Techs, 2015

This is a moment of reflection at my old workplace called CameraTechs. Shortly after graduating from photo school I was working at the camera repair shop and had bought a new Sony mirrorless camera. Both my career and my camera were brand new.

Trans People are Divine, 2022

A self-portrait one month after receiving gender-affirming top surgery. I hold the words “Trans people are divine” to honor the ‘Black Trans Prayer Book,’ a publication of stories, poems, prayers, meditation, spells, and incantations used by Black trans and non-binary people.

First Self-Portrait, Carrie Mae Weems, 1975

In this photograph, Weems leans against a white pillar—the symbol of strength, a spinal cord, and long-lasting Greek architecture—but her pose is gentle and protective. This photograph has such strong tonal blacks and whites that, when I unfocus my eyes, I see a white square with a small black hole in the middle. Holes can mean something is missing; they can be windows to look through. In this case I see both, I see every woman here.

Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a photographer, journalist, and fifth-generation Seattle resident whose work is deeply connected to the history and communities of the Pacific Northwest. A natural born documentarian, their toolkit includes 15+ years behind the camera, an associate’s degree in commercial photography, and seven years of experience working as a photojournalist and photo editor. In addition to working as a staff photographer at the Seattle Art Museum, Chloe also teaches photography at Youth in Focus and Photo Center Northwest, and has had their work featured in The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, NPR, Buzzfeed, Real Change, Crosscut, and more.

Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own self-portrait on Instagram and tagging us before December 9. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions for our next two themes—street photography and family & community photography—in the coming weeks.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: First Self Portrait, 1975, Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 8 5/8 x 8 5/8 inches, © Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Muse/News: Blockbuster Photos, Blanket Transformations, and An Art Carnival

SAM News

“Blockbuster photography”: Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel appears on KUOW to share some arts picks, including Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, which opened last week at SAM.

“There’s a lot of variety… you’ll see portraits, you’ll see really cool street photography—which is among my favorites—but also really solemn landscapes and more conceptual works made from the 1970s to today.”

“Give experiences, not things”: We couldn’t have said it better. Seattle’s Child recommends memberships to buy as gifts this season, including a Seattle Art Museum membership, which you can score at a 20% discount through November 28.

Local News

For the Seattle’s Times’ holiday events coverage, here’s Jerald Pierce with “6 exhibitions featuring WA-based artists to catch in December 2022.”

The Stranger’s Matt Baume on the 5th Avenue Theatre’s First Draft program, whose goal is to “nurture theater arts in previously-overlooked communities.” 

“Meet the Chehalis artist weaving a new Native narrative,” invites Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel in her article on Seattle-based photographer Selena Kearney’s curatorial debut.

“‘A gallery wall is not their primary destination,’ Kearney says about the blankets, which hang on rods all around her during a recent gallery visit. ‘These are made for ceremony and transformation. When you put a blanket on, you transform into something else.’”

Inter/National News

Via Artnet’s Sarah Cascone: “Artist Paul Rucker Has Received $2 Million in Grants to Open a Permanent Museum About the History of Racism in the U.S.” The space, called Cary Forward, will be in Richmond, Virginia; the artist worked and showed art in Seattle for many years.

Daniel Cassady for ARTnews on the announcement by the Fondation Giacometti that they plan to open a museum dedicated to Alberto Giacometti in Paris in 2026. Housed at the under-renovation Invalides train station, it will also include a school.

Joe Coscarelli for the New York Times on the rebirth of Luna Luna, a “long-lost art carnival” that’s being brought back to life thanks in large part to the rapper Drake and his DreamCrew. 

“In his typically lyrical telling, [Luna Luna creator André] Heller compared DreamCrew swooping in to ‘when you promise your child a swimming pool and then somebody comes and is like, ‘Wouldn’t you like to have the Mediterranean Sea?’”

And Finally

For those who can’t make it to NYC: A virtual tour of The Tudors at the Met

 Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Snap, Tag, and Share: Join SAM Photo Club!

Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems are two of the most significant photo-based artists working today. Both born in 1953, Bey and Weems explore complex visions of Black life in America through intimate portraits, dynamic street photography, and conceptual studies of folklore, culture, and historical sites.

SAM Photo Club is an engaging Instagram program where we ask our followers to snap a photo according to exhibition-related themes, tag the photo with #SAMPhotoClub, and share it to their feed. Throughout the run of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (November 17, 2022–January 20, 2023) at the Seattle Art Museum, we’ll announce photography submissions for three of the defining motifs of their respective careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family and community.

Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram stories. At the end of the exhibition, we’ll compile the photos we’ve received across all three categories and share them on SAM Blog!

When to participate

  • Friday, November 18: Self-portrait photography
  • Friday, December 9: Street photography
  • Friday, December 30: Family & community photography

How to participate

  • Follow SAM on Instagram and keep an eye out for each theme announcement
  • Share your photographs with #SAMPhotoClub!

Watch the teaser below to get a glimpse of what you’ll see when you visit In Dialogue at SAM beginning Thursday, November 17. Get your tickets now to find all of the inspiration you need for your own submission in SAM’s galleries!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Self and Shadow, New York, NY, 1980, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery. The Kitchen Table Series: Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Children), 1990, Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953, platinum print, 38.1 x 38.1 cm (15 x 15 in.), © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Muse/News: Fresh Attention, Shark Tank, and Broken is Mended

SAM News

For Crosscut’s weekly ArtSEA dispatch, Brangien Davis is inspired by “fresh attention to art arrangement” at both the Frye Art Museum and at SAM in American Art: The Stories We Carry.

“…a striking section…includes a huge portrait by Kehinde Wiley, a tintype photo of a Lummi violinist by Will Wilson and a turn-of-the-century cast-bronze sculpture of an ‘Indian Warrior’ by Alexander Phimister Proctor. Each holds a long straight object: a rod, a violin bow, and a spear. Each prompts thoughts about who is portrayed in art and how.”

Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue opens Thursday, November 17! The exhibition—which brings together the work of these two legendary photographers for the first time—was featured in Crosscut’s list of “things to do in Seattle this November.”

“What connects their work, besides a friendship and a medium, is a shared timeframe and understanding of the power of photography as a way to explore—and celebrate—the experiences of Black people.”

And there’s a whole alphabet of fun from Gemma Alexander for ParentMap as she shares “Amazing A–Z PNW Winter Adventures Family Fun Workshops”—including SAM’s recurring Family Fun Workshops at both the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

Local News

There’s a new venue in a very old space at the Pike Place Market. Crosscut’s Alexa Peters reports on the launch of The Rabbit Box.

The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce on the site-specific Saltwater Soundwalk, “a 55-minute listening experience that uplifts the stories and voices of Indigenous Coast Salish peoples.”

The Seattle Times’ Sandi Doughton on the development of the Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion, which will transform the downtown waterfront.

“‘This landscape that was dominated by a big, honking, gray, rumbling freeway will now be a massive public park for the people,’ says Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, whose district includes the waterfront. At the center of it all will be the Seattle Aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion: a 50,000-square-foot exhibit space featuring sharks, rays, and other animals and ecosystems from the tropical Pacific.”

Inter/National News

Elaine Velie for Hyperallergic on the National Portrait Gallery’s seven new “Portrait of a Nation” commissions, including Serena and Venus Williams, Marian Wright Edelman, and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Artnet’s Vittoria Benzine catches you up on “Every Artwork Attacked by Climate Activists This Year, From the ‘Mona Lisa’ to ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring.’”

Artnet’s Sarah Cascone with a deep look at the new stained glass windows by artists Faith Ringgold and Barbara Earl Thomas at a residential college of Yale University.

“‘I took it as a huge responsibility,’ Thomas told Artnet News, noting that she had heard about the controversy surrounding the broken window, but never dreamed that she would become part of the story. ‘I feel quite emotional about it. This was a moment for me to be part of something far bigger than me.’”

And Finally

CBS Sunday Morning visits the new Museum of Broadway.

 Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: L. Fried.

Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems: Artists, Friends, and Inspirations

Two young artists meet in a photography class and become friends. It happens all the time. But the two people aren’t always Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems, who from that meeting at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1976 would go on to become two of the most celebrated photo-based artists working today. Over the next 46 years, Bey and Weems pursued their own practices, their artistic interests overlapping and diverging as they continued to be sources of friendship and inspiration to each other. Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, coming to SAM as part of a national tour, marks the first time their work—the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions—has been shown in dialogue together. You are invited into their career-long conversations about art, culture, and history, all grounded in the lived experiences of Black Americans.

In Dialogue is organized in five thematic pairings. It explores the artists’ early work, as both Bey and Weems captured scenes of street life and domestic scenes with passers-by and family as subjects. Weems’ groundbreaking Kitchen Table series (1990), a fictional photo essay about women and their self-perceptions, signals a new direction combining text and image.

The artists have a mutual interest in the history of Black people in America and how history and lived experience manifests in landscapes and urban environments. Sites of historical importance surface in other contexts: Weems’ Sea Islands series (1991–1992) features locales of Gullah culture on the islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. To her lyrical images she adds accounts of oral history, mythology, and song. The history of slavery is confronted in Weems’ representations of 19th-century photographs of enslaved people—jarring images that turned the individuals into objects of racist study. In contrast, Bey’s Night Coming Tenderly, Black series (2017) turns the viewer in the position of a fugitive, arriving at nightfall at sites that were thought to be on the Underground Railroad, a network aiding enslaved people to freedom during the 19th century. In Weems’ most recent series, Roaming, she stages her own body within the city of Rome—a reminder of the city’s history, power, conquest, and domination from ancient to modern times.

Also on view in the exhibition are works that express the importance of commemoration in Black culture. Bey’s Birmingham Project (2019) memorializes the deaths of six young Black Americans murdered in the Alabama city in 1963, with portraits of present-day Birmingham-area children placed in diptychs with adults at the age the young people would have been today. Weems’ Constructing History series (2008) focuses on well-known images of 20th-century tragedies such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, reenacting them with students and community members in Atlanta.

“The work of these two artists and friends have never been more relevant as we consider the meaning of multiple histories in our lives and surroundings,” says Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Contemporary Art.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

This article first appeared in the October 2022 through January 2023 article of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.

Photo: Couple in Prospect Park, 1990 (printed 2018), Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 21 7/8 x17 ½ inches, Grand Rapids Art Museum, museum purchase, 2018.22. © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Muse/News: New Visions, Hello Fall, and Martin’s Collection

SAM News

“Grapples with the institution’s past and reaches for a new vision of its future”: Online and in the new print edition of Seattle Met, Sophie Grossman previews American Art: The Stories We Carry, the major reinstallation of SAM’s American art galleries opening October 20. 

The Stranger team is out with their fall arts preview, AKA the “fun, sexy, weird, and smart things you need to do this fall.” In it, Jas Keimig highlights the work of two “photography titans” headed to Seattle, AKA Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, the touring exhibition that opens at SAM on November 17. 

“Both are artists of world renown who have meticulously told stories of Black people, Black history, and Black subjectivity in the United States since their careers began back in the 1970s. And, on top of it all, they are friends.”

ICYMI: The Seattle Times’ Vonnai Phair spotlighted Legendary Children, the celebration of queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities held this past Friday, September 23, for which SAM is a partner. And Alex Garland captured its beauty for South Seattle Emerald. It’s back to an annual event, so start planning your outfit for next year’s celebration now!

Local News

Seattle news from New Haven: Seattle-artist Barbara Earl Thomas recently unveiled stunning new stained glass windows she created for Yale University residential building Grace Hopper College. The story includes a link to an artists’ conversation about the project.

“Is there a North Bend arts scene?” asks this Seattle Times package, with stories about the town just outside of the city. 

And Crosscut knows that fall arts isn’t just later in October and November, it’s…right now.

“Adieu, summer. We’re ringing in the arrival of fall with a slate of intriguing concerts, shows and installations.”

Inter/National News

The New York Times’ Aruna D’Souza on a new MoMA exhibition exploring the important legacy of another New York arts space: Just Above Midtown Gallery, or JAM.

Via Chelsea Weathers for Hyperallergic: “In Santa Fe, Artists and Retirees Join Hands to Combat Loneliness.”

Via Artnet’s Sarah Cascone: “‘I Had Never Seen Anything Like It Before’: Steve Martin on Becoming One of the Top Collectors of Australian Indigenous Art.” SAM frontline staff have spotted Martin at the museum over the years, checking out our impressive galleries of Australian Aborginial art; right now, you can see Honoring 50 Years of Papunya Tula Painting.  

“‘I think it’s such a fascinating story,’ Martin said. He also appreciated collecting in an area where there wasn’t a huge amount of established scholarship. ‘It’s fun to have something to study, to try to understand, to apply your critical eye to without any outside pressure,’ he added. ‘There’s not a lot of promotion about [these] artists. You just have to find it out yourself.’”

And Finally

Ireizō.com.

 Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Minidoka Series #2: Exodus, 1978, Roger Y. Shimomura, acrylic on canvas 60 x 72 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ofell H. Johnson, 79.5 © Roger Y. Shimomura.

Muse/News: Fall Art, By the Numbers, and Painting Obamas

SAM News

Pumpkin spice everything and fall arts previews: It’s the best time of the year! The Seattle Times and Crosscut both highlighted Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, a touring exhibition that opens at SAM on November 17! Get excited about exploring the work and friendship of these two powerhouse photo-based artists.

“…explores their overlapping efforts to reflect the experience of Black people and issues around systems of power.”

“What connects their work, besides a friendship and a medium, is a shared timeframe and understanding of the power of photography as a way to explore — and celebrate — the experiences of Black people.”

And there’s lots on view right now! Seattle Met includes SAM exhibition Indigenous Matrix: Northwest Women Printmakers on their “things to do” list, and Crosscut’s Brangien Davis shouts-out Ryan Molenkamp’s show Ascendant, which “emphasize[s] the beauty of geologic strata and tectonic action” and is on view at SAM Gallery through October 2.

Puget Sound Business Journal is out with their “40 Under 40” list, and Chef Shubert Ho is on it! His Feedme Hospitality & Restaurant Group includes MARKET Seattle at SAM, bringing lobster rolls and other seafood offerings that can only be described as high art. Congrats, Shubert!

Local News

Grace Gorenflo and photographer Daniel Kim of the Seattle Times were there to document the recent opening of Arté Noir, a nonprofit focused on uplifting Black arts and culture founded by Vivian Phillips and directed by Jazmyn Scott.

As part of their fall arts preview, Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel profiled “four rising Seattle artists to watch”: Moses Sun, Angelique Poteat, Ana María Campoy and Luther Hughes.

Vansynghel also conducted a survey of local arts and culture venues to find out whether attendance is recovering since the pandemic shutdowns. SAM contributed our stats and reflections on the complicated issues——and opportunities—for cultural organizations.

“We are still working to recover from the effects of the closures and attendance numbers alone don’t tell the whole story,” said Seattle Art Museum director and CEO Amada Cruz. “The bigger question we are asking is: Who is being served by, represented in and engaged with the museum and its mission? And who is not?”

Inter/National News

The New York Times recently delivered its fall arts preview, including a feature by Jason Farago on blockbusters and Will Heinrich’s list of exhibitions to see across the country.

Artnet’s Caroline Goldstein reports on the recent unveiling of the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama by Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, respectively.

And Will Heinrich of the New York Times interviewed Sprung to learn about her experience and goals when painting Michelle Obama.

“Asked why she was chosen, Ms. Sprung replied, ‘I didn’t ask! I didn’t want to put any shred of doubt in their mind that they picked the right person.’”

And Finally

“Quick, I wanna see a Rothko before Sean poops.”

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Harlem Street, 1976–77, Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 5 5/16 x 8 15/16 in., Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Object of the Week: In the Superexpress Station, Atami

Just as the shinkansen, Japan’s bullet train, began to pull out of Atami station, photographer Leo Rubinfien captured the joy of high-speed rail transit in a fleeting moment. A businessman bursts out with laughter, his face framed by the black window frame and white curtains of his train carriage as he embarks on the four hour journey to Okayama along Japan’s southeastern coast. The blue horizontal paint that runs along the exterior of the train carriage draws the viewer’s eye horizontally, as if our eyes are tracing the movement of a train in-motion through a static image.

This 1984 photograph, In the Superexpress Station, Atami, is part of a series taken over an eight-year period in East and Southeast Asia in Rubinfien’s attempt to subjectively present and characterize his surroundings. Having spent his early life in Tokyo, Rubinfien moved through over seven countries between 1979 and 1987. His images tell a compelling and truthful, yet un-romanticized story of the people and culture he encounters on this trip. The subjects of his images—including both tourists and locals—are said to successfully depict “how the East views itself,” while simultaneously illustrating “how the West constantly assaults but never quite conquers it.”

Rubinfien’s photographs were last on view in SAM’s galleries over 27 years ago in Leo Rubinfien: A Map of the East. However, today, they are just as relevant as ever. As contemporary documentary photographers still grapple with questions of “othering” and face the challenges of conveying lived experiences without appropriation through a single snapshot, Rubinfien’s photographs act as a blueprint. Similarly, as local transport systems across the globe continue to expand, and we become more cognizant of the impending doom that is the planet-wide climate crisis, rail transportation is more important than ever. Rubinfien, through both In the Superexpress Station, Atami and other images in his series, relays questions surrounding pollution, transportation, and globalization over the last 30+ years to viewers. Rubinfien captures people and moments, despite decades aged, that remain topical and vibrant to contemporary discussions.

– Arielle Murphy, SAM Accessibility Lead

Images: In the Superexpress Station, Atami, Leo Rubinfien, 1984, American, Born 1952, Kodak Type C print, 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 60.96 cm). Gift of Lee Friedlander, 93.88. A Watch Repairer’s, Chungking, 1984, Leo Rubinfien, American, born 1953, Kodak Type C print, 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 60.96 cm), Gift of Lee Friedlander, 93.92. On The Breakwater At Kenceran Beach During Idul Fitri, Surabaya, 1982, Leo Rubinfien, American, born 1953, Kodak Type C print, 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 60.96 cm), Gift of Lee Friedlander, 93.93.

Object of the Week: Distant Echoes of Dreams

What if you turned on the faucet in your bathroom or kitchen and no water flowed out? How far would you have to go to obtain enough water for your family’s needs for one day? How much do we take our immediate access to clean water for granted? 

Aida Muluneh was hired by an international organization, WaterAid, to help shed light on the extreme inequities in access to clean water. WaterAid has the statistics to make their case—working in 34 countries for the poorest and most marginalized people—who they have served since 1981.1 One water historian contends that, “the struggle to command increasingly scarce, usable water resources is set to shape the destinies of societies and the world order of the 21st century.”2

Called upon to be a truth teller, Muluneh created a series of twelve striking photographs that focus on the burden women bear in finding and carrying water. She set the stage for most of the photographs in an Ethiopian region called the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest and driest places on Earth. Its salt lakes and the air and gas from hot sulfur springs and boiling lava lakes accentuate the sense of being on another planet. In Distant Echoes of Dreams, women move across this primordial geography carrying water in clay pots tied to their backs. 

Star Shine, Moon Glow, 2018, Aida Muluneh, Archival digital photograph, 31 1/2 x 31 1/2 in.

I first saw Muluneh’s series in London and heard the artist speak about it, as you can too in this short segment. This photograph was just recently acquired into SAM’s collection and will be on view in Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, opening March 18. The small image on your screen does not reveal the details, texture, and visceral impact of the Muluneh’s original work. Accompanying this image in SAM’s galleries will be a video that takes you to Ethiopia with the artist as she creates this indelible series.

Pam McClusky, SAM Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb Curator of African and Oceanic Art


1 https://www.wateraid.org/uk/media/striking-exhibition-from-afrofuturist-photographer-aida-muluneh-on-impact-of-unclean-water-on.

2 Water: the Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization, by Steven Solomon, 2010, Harper and Collins, NYC, pg. 367.

Photo: Distant Echoes of Dreams, 2018, Aida Muluneh, Archival digital photograph, 31 1/2 x 31 1/2 in., General Acquisition Fund, 2021.40 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Imogen Cunningham: Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore

Imogen Cunningham often took photographs of unsuspecting strangers on the street. Uncomfortable with confrontation, she found beauty in capturing daily public life without interference. At times, she used windows, spun around, or bent over and pretended to be searching for something in her purse to distract from the sound of her camera’s click. She called these surreptitious photographs “stolen pictures.”

Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore marks a stark contrast from Cunningham’s typical street photographs. In this image, her subject—a Black woman dressed in a long coat, stockings, and heels—has spotted Cunningham. Waiting for the bus, her right eyebrow is raised as she looks directly into the camera.

The woman’s stare is intensified as the image is cleverly reflected off of a storefront window, dividing the composition down the center, and creating a “doubled” illusion. Cunningham was fascinated with this effect and often used mirrors or glass to create this perspective.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts, discusses Cunningham’s “stolen pictures” and the changing dynamic shared between Cunningham and her subject after being spotted. Tune in to all 13 recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location through February 6.

Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore, ca. 1940

Narrator: Taken in Cunningham’s San Francisco neighborhood, this photograph captures two figures waiting for a bus. On the right, a man wearing a hat holds a paper bag. In the center, a woman stands dressed in a winter coat with her purse at her feet.

Chris Johnson: She’s giving Imogen a very strong direct gaze and there’s nothing reticent about that gaze and I think Imogen liked that because she was a strong outspoken woman herself.

Narrator: The image is doubled in the reflection of the storefront window on the left. Cunningham was fascinated with this effect, something she first encountered in the compositions of eighteenth-century Japanese prints. She often used mirrors or glass to create this perspective. The doubling effect places the woman in the center of the image and creates a dynamic between individuals, including the photographer.

Chris Johnson: The implied relationship between the photographer and the woman who’s giving her that gaze… between the black woman and the white man who is presumably ignoring both of them, Imogen and this black woman are in their own world. The white man is in his other world. He has his back turned to us. So Imogen is affirming her allegiance to this black [woman] and I really think the meaning of the image resides there.

Narrator: These “stolen pictures”, as Cunningham called her street scenes, were sometimes taken without the subject’s knowledge and represented a stylistic departure for her. But in this case, the central figure directly confronts Cunningham, and us.

Chris Johnson: Isn’t this a clear example of photographic seeing, you know, the way that the camera sees differently than the way eyeballs see?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore, ca. 1940, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 7 3/4 × 7 1/2 in., Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Junior League of Oakland, A67.130.33, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: Hand Weaving with Hand

Hands play a prominent role in the work of Imogen Cunningham. Many of her most recognizable photographs focus on the movement of hands and their connection to the body. In Hand Weaving with Hand, the shadow of a hand with spread fingers protrudes from the lower left side of the image. Although the majority of the photograph is composed of a thin, rumpled fabric with vertical stripes, it is the ambiguity of this shadowed hand which captures the viewer’s attention.

Tune in to this audio recording to hear nonbinary Black transfem choreographer and dancer Randy Ford explore Cunningham’s use of hands throughout her work and relate it to her own dance production, Queen Street. Hear this and other audio recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the Seattle Art Museum.

Hand Weaving with Hand, 1945

Narrator: While the right side of this photograph is dark, filled with billowing folds of a draped cloth, the left portion is backlit, and the fabric hangs flat. Behind the weaving, a light silhouettes a hand with fingers splayed. This hand is what first caught the eye of Seattle native Randy Ford, a dancer and choreographer.

Randy Ford: So I just think the hands are very interesting. You know, we create a lot of things with our hands. You know, we draw. We open doors. We close doors. We celebrate with our hands. They just play a really huge part in our lives and choreograph what we do every day. I don’t think of dance as just something that you do with your legs and your body and your torso. You know you can do a lot of expressing with just your hands, which is probably just why I again gravitated toward this shadow of a hand on this masterpiece of a sheet. The hands really kind of direct us a lot of places.

Narrator: In her portraits, Cunningham often zeroed in on hands—tickling the keys of a piano, delicately playing a violin, or shaping the rim of a clay pot. This singular, open palm appears to almost clap the suspended weaving. Is this the hand that made it? Is it presenting the cloth proudly… lovingly? As with so many of Cunningham’s photographs, the layering—in this case of fabric, lighting, and shadow—and ambiguity allow for multiple interpretations. Randy Ford, who recently told her own complex transition story in her dance production, Queen Street, can relate.

Randy Ford: I love making work that, is definitely visually appealing, but I also want people to realize what they’re looking at or maybe where their feelings are coming from. There’s definitely just a lot of depth within this simple-looking image and that’s why I chose it. It was very simple but still complex. It had like a little bit of a story. It invoked something about creation for me as a choreographer and director and an artist myself. I always kind of just wonder what are the beginnings of things? You know, things aren’t just the way they are just because they appear to us.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Hand Weaving with Hand, Imogen Cunningham, 1945. Gelatin silver print, Image: 13 1/4 x 9 1/2 in. Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

My Favorite Things: Meg Partridge on Imogen Cunningham

“Imogen was always after capturing a moment in time. It wasn’t a perfect moment—it was just a moment that spoke to her.”

– Meg Partridge

Hear Meg Partridge, Imogen Cunningham’s granddaughter and Director of the Imogen Cunningham Trust, discuss one of her favorite Cunningham photographs, Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture. Capturing Asawa at work in her studio with her young children beside her, the photograph, explains Partridge, illustrates the close relationship Cunningham shared with the Asawa family and marks a contrast from many of the major themes Cunningham explored throughout her career.

Accompanying this image in the exhibition are seven sculptures created by Ruth Asawa herself. On view for the first time in Seattle and exclusive to this venue, the works demonstrate the inextricable link between these two artists as Cunningham’s photos of Asawa’s sculptures gained widespread attention for the artistic pursuits of both women.

See Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture alongside Asawa’s sculptures on view now in Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at SAM through February 6 and learn more about this photograph as part of the exhibition’s audio tour.

Artwork: Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, Gelatin silver print, 10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (26.4 x 26.4 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43 © Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: Mills College Amphitheater

In June 1920, Imogen Cunningham’s husband, Roi Partridge, accepted a teaching position in the art department at Mills College, a private liberal arts school for women in Oakland, California. With their three young sons, Cunningham and Partridge moved from San Francisco to an old house situated near campus which initially had neither plumbing nor electricity.

While in Oakland, Cunningham established herself as a well-educated woman and progressive role model in the community. She offered Mills College students uncensored advice about their professional aspirations and her home came to be recognized as a safe haven for private discussions about sexuality and family planning.

One important stream of income for Cunningham at this time was photographing Mills College student portraits, dance performances, and campus architecture. Her photograph, Mills College Amphitheater (ca. 1928), captures the curved concrete design of the college’s outdoor auditorium. The image, likely inspired by the work of American photographer Paul Strand, plays with abstract geometric forms created by sunlight and shadows.

In this audio recording from the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum, nonbinary black transfem choreographer and dancer Randy Ford discusses the significance of this image within Cunningham’s larger body of work. She points out Cunningham’s decision to forgo photographing the amphitheater’s stage, opting instead to play with the shadows and sunlight of the empty audience.

Mills College Amphitheater, ca. 1928

Randy Ford: My name is Randy Ford. I use she/her and goddess as pronouns, and I’m a nonbinary Black transfem, just out here trying to live and make art that’s going to change the world.

Narrator: Imogen Cunningham’s photo of an outdoor amphitheater reminded Randy, a choreographer and dancer, of the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle where she staged her first full-length performance, Queen Street.

Randy Ford: I’m also a Greek drama nerd, and so this just looks like a Greek amphitheater like back in the day. It looks like a coliseum.

Narrator: The photograph was actually taken at Mills College, a women’s liberal arts college in Oakland, California, where Cunningham’s husband taught. She often photographed architectural elements on campus, including the amphitheater. There is no stage in Cunningham’s abstract interpretation. Instead, we see only curved concrete rows and rectangular steps highlighted by sunlight and shadows.

Randy Ford: Cunningham was very much just like, yeah, you know, the audience is the show. It’s not always about what’s on stage. It’s kind of like what’s the environment? What’s the tone? What time of day is it? Was this right before the performance? Was this an empty show where no one showed up? Audience plays a huge role in live performance. As a live performer, I live for an interactive audience. Just let me know you’re here. Let me know you feel me because, performers are also humans.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Mills College Amphitheatre, Imogen Cunningham, ca. 1928, Gelatin silver print, Image: 8 1/8 x 12 1/4 in, Collection of Gary B. Sokol.

Object of the Week: Yakima River at Thorp, WA, January 17, 1980

Unlike summer, with its durational heat and drought, winter in the Pacific Northwest brings with it water—and lots of it. We’re only two weeks into 2022 and we’ve seen over six inches of rain already, thanks to a deluge of atmospheric rivers.1

With water as its subject, this photograph by Johsel Namkung (1919–2013)—taken almost exactly 42 years ago on January 17, 1980—focuses on the swirling, glistening eddies of the Yakima River. One can feel the temperature of the waters—once snowmelt—merely by looking at the image. Rocks and sediment visible through the river’s crystal-clear waters are in rhythmic balance with translucent currents of refracted light and bubbles.

With a background in classical music, studying at the Tokyo Conservatory of Music and later the University of Washington School of Music, Namkung possessed a penchant for visual composition as well. However, his studies of nature are more than mere documentation, they express “the impression of sound, music, emotion or philosophy.”2 In a 1989 interview he described his attraction to the “beauty in the lowly humble clumps of, or groups of plants, and weeds, and things like that. I think that is the essence or a component of a great nature.”3

Namkung’s work will be on view in the upcoming special exhibition, Our Blue Planet: Global Visions of Water, opening March 18 at our downtown location. Showcasing a diverse range of artists and practices, the exhibition examines water’s pleasures and perils, as well as its changing role in our lives.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate


1 Seattle Weather Blog, “2022 Rainfall,” https://www.seattleweatherblog.com/rain-stats/rainfall-2022/.

2 Delores Tarzan Ament, “Namkung, Johsel (1919-2013),” HistoryLink.org, March 3, 2003, https://www.historylink.org/File/5346.

3 Archives of American Art, “Oral history interview with Johsel Namkung, 1989 Oct. 5-1991 Feb. 25,” https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-johsel-namkung-12201#transcript.

Image: Yakima River at Thorp, WA, January 17, 1980, 1980, Johsel Namkung, Chromogenic digital laser print, 40 × 50 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2006.114 © Johsel Namkung.

Imogen Cunningham: Ruth Asawa Family And Sculpture

In 1950, Imogen Cunningham’s son Randal introduced her to Japanese-American artist Ruth Asawa. Despite their 43-year age difference—Asawa was 24 and Cunningham was 67 at the time—the two artists quickly developed an unbreakable bond.

“Asawa and Cunningham placed a priority on relationships and refused to choose between the life of family and their art,” explained art historian and curator Daniel Cornell of their friendship. “They shared a similar fate as the critics who labeled their work feminine as a way to suggest its inherent inferiority to the work of male artists.”1

Over the next two decades, Cunningham and Asawa’s careers regularly intertwined. For the cover of the June 1952 issue of Arts & Architecture magazine, Cunningham photographed a few of Asawa’s wire sculptures, developed four individual prints, and mounted them on a single board. In 1964, Aperture magazine used a photograph Cunningham had taken of another of Asawa’s sculptures on the cover of its winter issue.

Imogen Cunningham’s photograph for the cover of Arts & Architecture featuring Ruth Asawa’s sculptures on view at SAM. Photo: Natali Wiseman

In a drafted letter recommending Asawa for a Guggenheim Foundation grant, Cunningham wrote of her friend: “However remote and obscure Ruth Asawa’s project may seem to most of us, I have very strong reasons to believe that she can achieve a real improvement in building ornament by carrying it out… To me, she is what I call an unfailingly creative person and there are very few of them.”2

Listen to this audio recording to discover the backstory of one particular photograph Cunningham took of Asawa and her family in 1957. Produced by the Seattle Art Museum, this recording includes a discussion by Japanese and Chinese Canadian photographer Kayla Isomura on the significance of Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture and its influence in her own work. Learn more about this image from SAM’s personal collection and Ruth Asawa’s legacy here, then see it on view alongside Ruth Asawa’s sculptures now in Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at SAM through February 6.

Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957

Narrator: Photographer Kayla Isomura.

Kayla Isomura: I really enjoyed this image actually because of how candid and sort of natural it is, and it’s so every day in a way, but there’s also this interesting juxtaposition of just the art that takes up so much of the space. I’m not even sure if I should be looking at the sculpture or the kids, but I think just all of that put together, for me it just seems very intriguing as an image.

Narrator: Cunningham often photographed Asawa’s sculptures, but this image incorporates the domestic studio. Beneath the central sculpture sits a baby drinking from a bottle and a girl with a stick. Partially hidden by the suspended work, a third child watches as his mother pulls wire from a spool to begin another looped sculpture. A fourth child crouches on top of a low table.

Kayla Isomura: It doesn’t feel like the family or the kids are necessarily aware that the camera is there. They’re just kind of doing their own thing.

Narrator: Like her sculptures, in which open weaving reveals forms inside the forms, multiple facets of Asawa’s life are on view. You can see several of Asawa’s sculptures in this gallery. Asawa, her parents, and five siblings were among approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent incarcerated during World War II. In her work, The Suitcase Project, Kayla, a fourth-generation Japanese and Chinese Canadian, asked Japanese Americans and Canadians what they would pack if they were forced into an internment camp. The process raised questions about the complex relationships among artist, subject, and identity.

Kayla Isomura: Something that in recent years that I’ve really come to consider is this sort of question of who is allowed to do this work. Do you have that connection, or do you feel this as part of your identity if this is what you want to do? Or can you work with somebody who has a closer connection if you do not? So is it enough that the subjects in their work, are maybe being represented? Or, does it matter equally as much that the person behind the work, you know, has that direct connection, to whatever it is that they’re documenting? And I think those are the questions that I have.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, Gelatin silver print10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (26.4 x 26.4 cm), Gift of John H. Hauberg, 89.43 © Imogen Cunningham Trust.

1 Daniell Cornell et al., The Sculpture of Ruth Asawa: Contours in the Air (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2006), 148.

2 Imogen Cunningham, undated draft of Asawa recommendation (probably 1971),
Imogen Cunningham Papers.

Imogen Cunningham: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse

In Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse, Imogen Cunningham captures a moment of joy with two of her young grandchildren, Joan and Loren, as they experiment with the effects of a warped mirror. Despite the playful nature of the image, Cunningham remains stoic in photographing herself. Her face points down as she looks into the viewfinder of her black and silver-lined rectangular camera which she steadies with both hands. She is small in comparison to her grandchildren, whose elongated arms stretch the entirety of the image, but identifiable by her white hair, gemmed cap, and metallic glasses.

Tune in to this audio recording to hear Imogen Cunningham’s granddaughter, Meg Partridge, discuss Cunningham’s relationship with her grandchildren. Produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Partridge describes how this image came together and emphasizes Cunningham’s signature artistic style. Listen to this and other audio recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum through February 6, 2022.

Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse, 1955

Narrator: An outing with two of her granddaughters and a fun house mirror provided Imogen Cunningham with an irresistible subject. Meg Partridge, granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was really being very playful as she always was with photography.

Narrator: Partridge was only two when this photograph was taken, and too young to tag along. Instead, we see her older sister Joan, in the middle with both hands raised, and her cousin Loren, on the right with a hyper-elongated arm.

Meg Partridge: Imogen did not spend a lot of time taking grandchildren places and doing grandmotherly-like things. She enjoyed children once they became, as I would say, of interest to her. They could be articulate. They could have opinions. They could share thoughts.

Narrator: Cunningham worked while raising her three sons, and continued to do so once their children came along.

Meg Partridge: Looking at her work, you can see some of the same subjects coming in again and again. So we see many photographs of Imogen looking into her camera and photographing herself in a reflection or often in a shadow as well. But another is a very sort of surrealistic view that she took with her camera.

Narrator: Unlike the distorted versions of her granddaughters, her reflection in the self-portrait remains relatively true. We get just a glimpse of her grey hair beneath an embroidered cap and one-half of her eyeglasses, as her hands adjust the dials on her ever-present rolleiflex camera.

Meg Partridge: She was able to capture great shots that were unexpected because she had a camera around her neck and she just always wore it.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse, 1955, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 8 3/4 × 7 5/16 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2006.25.2, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: My Father At Ninety

Around 1901, Imogen Cunningham purchased her first camera. Aware of his daughter’s interest in photography, Cunningham’s father, Isaac Burns Cunningham, built her a darkroom in a woodshed on their property in Seattle. With her photography career in full bloom, Cunningham returned to the site of the original darkroom more than 30 years later to photograph her first and biggest supporter, her father.

Seated on a log in front of split wood, Cunningham intimately captures her aging father. In this recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, reflects on Cunningham’s loving relationship with her father and reveals the supportive role he played throughout her career. Listen to this and other audio recordings when you visit Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum.

My Father at Ninety, 1936

Meg Partridge: In all the photographs Imogen took of her father, you can just see that relationship between the two. You experienced that relationship a bit when you look into the eyes of Isaac Burns in this photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham had a host of ways for getting her subjects to relax and reveal a bit of themselves. She’d chat them up, catch them off guard, or mesmerize them with her own fluid, busy movement, all in order to, as she once said, “gain an understanding at short notice and at close range.” But with this sitter, those techniques weren’t necessary. Her father’s guard was never up.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was very close to her father. I think there was a real similar interest in their curiosity and their intellect and their pursuit of information.

Narrator: Isaac Burns Cunningham was a freethinker. His formal education was interrupted by the Civil War, yet he was a voracious reader and a student of all religions. He supported his large family with a wood and coal supply business. In his daughter, named for the Shakespearian character he found most noble, he nurtured a love of nature and art, buying her first set of watercolors and arranging painting lessons on weekends and summers.

Meg Partridge: This is from a very low-income, frugal family that didn’t have a lot of extra money to spare. Isaac Burns also made her a darkroom in his woodshed. So that’s how Imogen got started actually processing her own work as a teenager in Seattle.

Narrator: Like her father, Imogen Cunningham lived into her nineties. When asked in an interview two months before her death at age ninety-three which one of her photographs was her favorite, she replied, “The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: My Father at Ninety, 1936, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 9 3/4 × 7 11/16 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 87.XM.74.12, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: The Dream

In this soft-focused black and white photograph, a woman is visible from the waist-up. She sits in three-quarter profile and wears a loose, white robe which emphasizes her pale skin. This woman, who glows in contrast to the dark, hazy background which surrounds her, is miniaturist painter Clare Shepard.

Imogen Cunningham photographed her friend, Shepard, at the peak of the pictorialist movement. This movement saw photographers approach cameras as a tool—similar to a paintbrush—that made an artistic statement. Rather than capturing the real, pictorialism emphasized the beauty of a subject and an image’s composition.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts, considers the pictorialist approach Cunningham took in creating The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi) and the romantic feelings it relays. Listen to this and the rest of the audio tour when you visit Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at our downtown location as part of the exhibition’s free smartphone tour.

The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi), circa 1910

Chris Johnson: It’s a kind of a classic, romantic, pictorialist image of a young beautiful woman.

Narrator: Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts.

Chris Johnson: You can see that Imogen is very sensitive to the falling of light and shadow over this young woman.

Narrator: The atmosphere around her, seems to glow. Diffused light falls on her headscarf and the folds of her painter’s smock. Her eyes are half closed, as if in a trance. The close framing of the portrait keeps the background abstract. The subject is Clare Shepard, a friend and miniaturist painter.

Chris Johnson: Imogen, in her heart of hearts, was really a romantic and a romantic takes her feelings very seriously so her feelings as she was projecting them on to this young woman are pretty clear.

Narrator: The otherworldly portrait hints at Shepard’s rumored abilities as a clairvoyant. The image exemplifies pictorialism, an approach that prioritized beauty and expressiveness, composition and atmospheric effects. The movement rejected the realistic, documentary nature of photography and instead looked to painters as artistic influences.

Chris Johnson: One of the ideas behind the pictorialists was that you would use the soft-focus technique as a trope to indicate dreamy, romantic, ethereal, spiritual qualities. She’s catching this moment when Claire is lost within thought and it intends to try to draw us into the mood space that she’s occupying using pictorialist soft-focus as a formal strategy.

Narrator: When Cunningham took this portrait around 1910, Pictorialism was at its peak. Cunningham had recently opened her own studio in Seattle after studying photographic chemistry in Germany. The photograph marked a specific, early period in her career.

Chris Johnson: All of her photography subsequent to this phase is in marked contrast to the visual effects of this image.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi), about 1910, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, platinum print, 8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 88.XM.44.5, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: The Unmade Bed

While teaching at the California School of Fine Arts in 1957, Imogen Cunningham overheard her friend and co-worker Dorothea Lange give her students an assignment: photograph something you use every 24 hours. Inspired by the simple prompt, Cunningham returned to class the next week with a new photograph she had taken titled The Unmade Bed.

Listen to an interpretive analysis of the work from Cunningham’s close friend and collaborator Judy Dater. From the perfectly rumpled sheets to the spread out piles of bobby pins, Dater discusses how this image acts as a self-portrait of the artist and explains the reason why Cunningham often gifted a print of this image to newlyweds.

This audio recording is part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum. Tune in to all 13 recordings when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location.

The Unmade Bed, 1957

Narrator: A rumpled sheet and blanket are thrown back to reveal a pile of hairpins and another of bobby pins. Subtle gradations vary from the crisp white sheets exposed by sunlight, to the grey wool blanket with a shimmery trim, to the completely dark background.

Judy Dater: I can’t look at that photograph and not think of it as a self-portrait, a very personal self-portrait.

Narrator: In 1957, Dorothea Lange, best known for documenting the Great Depression, was teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. Cunningham was also teaching there when she heard her friend and fellow photographer give her students an intriguing assignment.

Judy Dater: And the assignment that, apparently, that Dorothea Lange, gave the class that day was to go home and photograph something you use every twenty-four hours. And so Imogen went home and made that particular photograph. And then when she came back the following week, she brought that in as her example.

Narrator: Did she intend it as a self-portrait? After all, those are her hair pins. Do they signify the letting down of one’s hair or one’s guard? Cunningham never said as much, but she did ascribe one message to the image.

Judy Dater: She sometimes would give that photograph to people as a wedding present so that the husband would know that the wife was going to be busy, that she had things to do, and not to expect the bed to always be made.

Narrator: Cunningham may have deliberately arranged the sheets and hairpins, or perhaps she happened upon the unmade bed exactly as she left it. For photographer Judy Dater, that’s irrelevant.

Judy Dater: She saw it and she was at the right angle at the right moment, and she knew what to do with it.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: The Unmade Bed, 1957, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 10 11/16 × 13 1/2 in., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, 2016.173.5, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom

For nearly a decade of her 70-year career, Imogen Cunningham focused on capturing the beauty of botanicals. Having studied chemistry and worked in the botany department at the University of Washington, she wrote her thesis in 1907 on the chemical process of photography while employing a variety of plants as her subjects.

Magnolia Blossom is perhaps Cunningham’s most well-known botanical image. The close-cropped photograph of the flower reveals the cone of stamens and pistils hiding between the petals. Taken as a whole, the image represents a transfixing study of light and shadows within the history of black and white photography.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, discusses the significance of this photograph within Cunningham’s larger body of work and provides insight on the photographer’s fascination with botanicals. Tune in to this and twelve other recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the Seattle Art Museum.

Magnolia Blossom, 1925

Narrator: This close-cropped image of a magnolia flower fills the entire frame. The petals have completely opened revealing the cone of stamens and curlicue carpels.

Meg Partridge: It’s really a beautifully sharp, focused, large-format image that is a simple subject, but it’s very powerful.

Narrator: For roughly a decade, Cunningham focused her attention on botanical studies. This is perhaps her most well-known example. She had an extensive knowledge of plants—as a chemistry major in college, she worked in the botany department, making slides for lectures and research.

Meg Partridge: She knew the botanical names of all of the plants that she had photographed and all the plants that she gardened with. She spent a good bit of time in the garden. So I think it was more about the relationship she had with her subject—be it a person or a plant—that we really see and respond to.

Narrator: There was a practical aspect to these botanical works as well. Cunningham once explained: “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small. I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time.”

Meg Partridge: And she would do it in moments where she had children underfoot, but also a moment to focus. She always used natural light and she often took photographs either inside with a simple backdrop or she even took simple backdrops, a white board or a black cloth, out into the garden to photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham’s full-frame botanicals such as this one were groundbreaking in early modernist photography.

 Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Magnolia Blossom, negative 1925; print 1930, Imogen Cunningham, American, 1883–1976, gelatin silver print, 9 5/16 × 11 5/8 in., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, 54042, Photo: Randy Dodson, © 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust.

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