In Focus: Anne Brigman

Anne Brigman was a critically acclaimed pictorial photographer in 1900’s America. Her work was characterized by the use of soft focus, symbolism, and extensive editing of her negatives using pencils, paints and superimposition. She became a well-known figure in artistic circles for her mastery of the painterly, pictorial style.

The Breeze, ca. 1910; Ballet de Mer, 1913; Sanctuary, 1921; The Strength of Loneliness, 1914. Images courtesy of Joseph Bellows Gallery

Anne Brigman’s upbringing and lifestyle had a significant impact on her photographic works. She was born in a small village in Hawaii which gave her a deep appreciation for the natural world. When she began experimenting with photography in 1901 she returned to her love of nature and began to stage her photographs in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, California.

The Source, 1909, The Brook, 1909

Though photography was an accepted hobby for both men and woman during this period, Brigman’s shooting style and choice of models diverged from the ordinary. In this era, modernization offered a convincing narrative of human progression and marked the beginning of man’s dominance over nature. Brigman disrupted this narrative. She was particularly talented at reflecting the power of nature through the raw emotion and intensity of her models. By shooting primarily nude women she stripped them of all signs of modernity and through her meticulous posing and the significant doctoring of the negatives she made them appear part of the natural landscape.

Her fascination with paganism and ancient mythologies can be found in many of her images as women are often portrayed as other-worldly, ethereal beings. Her painterly style combined with the mysticism and symbolism that is featured in much of her work bought her models into the realm of the unusual, the beautiful and the surreal.

Article by Megan Leahy

Images are used with permission from Joseph Bellows Gallery and Scott Nichols Gallery


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