The artist, once championed by Alfred Stieglitz, fell into obscurity after her death in 1950
The Nevada Museum of Art in Reno has organised a major retrospective of the overlooked photographer, poet and mountaineer Anne Brigman, a short-lived protégée of Alfred Stieglitz best-known for her ethereal nude self-portraits. The exhibition is the largest presentation of Brigman’s work to date and aims to “reintroduce this female creator who was ahead of her time, stripping off her clothes and scaling mountains at a time when women were still confined to Edwardian corsets”, says the show’s curator, Ann Wolfe.
Brigman was born in Honolulu in 1869 and moved to Oakland, California, around 1900 after a divorce from a Danish sea captain. She began shooting photographs in 1902, often staging scenes of herself and other women in the Sierra Nevada mountains, one of the most remote places in the US. Around that time, Brigman learned of Stieglitz’s journal Camera Work and began exchanging letters with the Modernist photographer, who embraced her work for its Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. Stieglitz made Brigman a member of the Photo-Secession movement in 1904 and featured her photographs in various exhibitions in New York from 1903-08.
So, how and when did this pioneering female artist fade from the larger narrative of Modern photographers? According to Wolfe, there’s a “very specific answer to that question, and it has to do Alfred Stieglitz himself”. Brigman travelled to New York to meet Stieglitz in 1910, but their relationship dissolved over the years that followed. During her visit, Brigman “overheard jarring conversations between Modernist male photographers about photographing nude women and wrote that the raw discussion of sexuality staggered her”, says Wolfe. Indeed, Brigman rejected what she called the “floral-feminine” convention of Modernist photography.
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