Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Anne Brigman: Photographer with a Flair for the Dramatic

Anne Brigman
Self Portrait
ca 1908
The San Francisco Call
I do not generally write about the more famous female painters, sculptors, and photographers, such as  Anne Brigman, however, to those not versed in the history and art of women, Brigman's name is not familiar. Anne Brigman was an American photographer and one of the original members of the Photo-Secession movement in America. Her best known images were photographed between the years 1900 and 1920, and depict nude women in theatrical, naturalistic, settings.

Anne Wardrope (Nott) Brigman, the eldest of eight children, was born into a family of British missionaries in the Nuuanu Valley above Honolulu, Hawaii. Her childhood was one of freedom. She fondly remembered herself as being a “young savage,” growing up amid mango trees, guava, papaya, and bougainvillea, Anne had no experience of the restraints that Victorian American society had on most women during that period.When she was sixteen years old her family moved back to the mainland and settled in Los Gatos, a small town in northern California, south of San Francisco . In 1894 she married Martin Brigman, a sea captain, whereupon Brigman accompanied her husband on several voyages to the South Seas, returning to Hawaii at least once.

Trained as a painter, Brigman turned to photography and became active in the bohemian art community in San Francisco in 1901. Soon she was exhibiting in local photographic salons, and within two years, Brigman had developed a reputation as a master of pictorial photography.[1] She came across Stieglitz's photography magazine entitled Camera Work and sent him an effusive letter about the photographs and the literary work within. That same year, Alfred Stieglitz invited her to join the Photo-Secessionists, an association of photographers founded in New York City in 1902 by Stieglitz and Edward Steichen that advocated the development and recognition of photography as fine art. 
Anne Brigman
Negative 1902, print 1914
Gelatin silver, toned or gelatin silver bromide
9 11/16 x 7 3/4 inches
J. Paul Getty Museum

In this photograph, the guardian angel figure, hand upraised as if in blessing, consoles the cowering woman within a protective stand of California western juniper trees. By obscuring their faces, the women portray archetypes rather than individuals. Trees tortured by lightning and twisted by the winds recur in Anne Brigman's work, symbolizing independence and an adaptation to life's adversity.

In order to achieve a sense of atmosphere that she could not find in nature that would be appropriate to the scene, Brigman altered her negative by hand, drawing and scratching lines onto the negative before printing. She created the halo above the figure's head at left and the sweep of lines meant to appear as a translucent, windblown garment on the figure at the right. [2] 

Brigman was often the subject of her own photographs. Many of her photos were taken in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in carefully selected locations and featured elaborately staged poses. Her dramatic images of youthful, slender, hearty, unaffected women spending their time out in nature were Brigman's favored subjects, and she photographed them nude in the landscape of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California.

 Anne W. Brigman
The Bubble
ca. 1905
© Art Museum, Princeton, N.J./gift of Mrs. Raymond C. Collins.
She received the Birmingham Society's first silver medal for the photograph entitled, "Soul of the Blasted Pine," in which she photographed herself  in a dramatic tableau.

Anne Brigman
Soul of the Blasted Pine
ca. 1908
 6 1/8 x 8 3/8 inches
Yale Visual Resources Collection
In 1906, Brigman was listed as a Fellow of the Photo-Secession, the only photographer west of the Mississippi to be so honored. [3] In 1908, the Secession Club held a special exhibit of her photographs in New York and, in 1909, she won a gold medal in the Alaska-Yukon Exposition, as well as awards in Europe. [4] In 1910 she and her husband separated so she could "work out my destiny," and she eventually lived on her own. She continued to exhibit over the years and was included in the landmark International Exhibition at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in New York in 1911, and the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography in San Francisco in 1922.

Anne BrigmanSelf-Portrait
ca. n.d.
Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe Archive
 In terms of her work, by the 1940s, Brigman's work evolved from a pictorial style to a straight photography approach, although she never completely abandoned her original vision. Her later close-up photos of sandy beaches and vegetation are expressive abstractions in black-and-white. In the mid-1930s Brigman began taking creative writing classes and she was soon writing poetry. Encouraged by her writing instructor, she put together a book of her poems and photographs entitled Songs of a Pagan. She successfully found a publisher for the book in 1941, but because of World War II the book was not printed until 1949, one year before her death. Brigman died on February 8, 1950 at her sister's home in El Monte, California.

Anne BrigmanThe Breeze
Photograph, from a “paste-up” for Brigman’s book Songs of a Pagan
Anne Brigman Papers
Brigman's counter-cultural images suggested bohemianism and female liberation. She explored the female form in the natural landscape that anticipates late twentieth-century ecofeminism and the societal and cultural connections it draws between women and the environment. [5] Her work challenged cultural norms and defied convention, instead, embracing pagan antiquity. The raw emotional intensity and barbaric strength of her photos contrasted with the carefully calculated and composed images of Stieglitz and other modern photographers of her day.
1. "Society Views Works of Art -- Photographer's Second Salon Proves Success - Sepias in Platinum Mingle With Bromides and Bichromates". The San Francisco Call. 1902-01-10. Retrieved 3/ 25/2013.
2. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Artists: Anne W. Brigman,  http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=107700, Retrieved March 25, 2013.
3. Susan Ehrens (1995). Original A Poetic Vision: The Photographs of Anne Brigman. Santa Barbara Museum of Art. p. 23.
4. "Work of Oakland Artist Captures Coveted Honor - Wins Gold Medal for Lens Studies - Annie W. Brigman Given Honors for Exhibit at Alaska-Yukon Exposition". The San Francisco Call. 1909-11-11. Retrieved 3/25/2013.
5. Yale Archive Library,  Intimate Circles: Women in the Arts, Anne Brigman, http://brbl-archive.library.yale.edu/exhibitions/awia/gallery/brigman.html, retrieved 3/26/2013.

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