Self-portrait of Anne Brigman (1919)
Anne Wardrope Nott
December 3, 1869
|Died||8 February 1950 (aged 80)|
El Monte, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Martin Brigman (marriage from 1894–1910)|
Her most famous images were taken between 1900 and 1920, and depict nude women in primordial, naturalistic contexts.
Brigman was born in the Nu‘uanu Pali above Honolulu, Hawaii, on 3 December 1869. She was the oldest of eight children born to Mary Ellen Andrews Nott, whose parents moved to Hawaii as missionaries in 1828. Her father, Samuel Nott, was from Gloucester, England. When she was sixteen her family moved to Los Gatos, California, and nothing is known about why they moved or what they did after arriving in California. In 1894 she married a sea captain, Martin Brigman. She accompanied her husband on several voyages to the South Seas, returning to Hawaii at least once.
Imogen Cunningham recounts a story supposedly told to her firsthand that on one of the voyages Brigman fell and injured herself so badly that one breast was removed. This story was never confirmed by Brigman or anyone else, but by 1900 Brigman stopped traveling with her husband and resided in Oakland, California.
The couple separated before 1910 and she lived in a cabin on Thirty-Second Street with her dog Rory, a dozen tamed birds, and occasionally with her mother. She was active in the growing bohemian community of the San Francisco Bay Area and became close friends with the Oakland writer Jack London and the Berkeley poet and naturalist Charles Keeler. Perhaps seeking her own artistic outlet, she began photographing in 1901. Soon she was exhibiting and within two years she had developed a reputation as a master of pictorial photography. The first public display of her work came in January 1902 with other members of the California Camera Club at San Francisco's Second Photographic Salon in the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. Her Portrait of Mr. Morrow was singled out in the press and was reproduced in the popular monthly Camera Craft. That journal praised her photos at the Los Angeles Salon of 1902 and over the next decade reproduced over a dozen of her prints. She used a shared darkroom (a converted barn) on Oakland's Brockhurst Street.
Brigman's career quickly accelerated at home. After her success at San Francisco's Third Photographic Salon (1903), she opened a teaching studio in Berkeley which attracted many University co-eds. Soon her allegorical studies appeared in Photograms of the Year and her portraits of California celebrities, such as the rakish Herman Whitaker, were featured in two issues of Sunset magazine. A partial list of her California exhibitions, which were reviewed extensively in the press between 1904 and 1908, includes the: Fourth and Fifth Annual Exhibitions of the Oakland Art Fund sponsored by the Starr King Fraternity; Palette, Lyre and Pen Club of Oakland (solo exhibit); Vickery, Atkins & Torrey Gallery in San Francisco (solo exhibit); Arts and Crafts Exhibition in Los Angeles; Paul Elder Gallery in San Francisco (solo exhibit); California Guild of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco; Oakland Club Room (solo show); First and Second Annuals of the Berkeley Art Association; Alameda County Exposition in Oakland’s Idora Park; Ebell Clubhouse in Oakland; and Del Monte Art Gallery in Monterey. She often lectured and on one occasion in October 1906 she summarized her philosophy on the Art of Photography at a well-attended event for Berkeley’s Town and Gown Club. Her celebrity status was confirmed in July 1907 when Emily J. Hamilton assessed Brigman and many of her famous photographs in a full-page Sunday magazine article for the San Francisco Call entitled “Lens Studies of a Photo-Secessionist.”  In 1907 Brigman completed eight illustrations for William E. Henley’s poem I Am the Captain of My Soul. Her “artists’ teas” in Oakland and Berkeley became occasions when the Bay Area’s famous painters, literati and actors mingled; among the prominent local photographers habitually in attendance were Oscar Maurer, Laura Adams Armer, Emily H. Pitchford, Adelaide Hanscom Leeson, and Oscar V. Lange. Her popularity with the public was slightly tarnished when her famous study of an undraped female nude, The Soul of the Blasted Pine, was criticized, sidelined and then removed from the 1908 Idora Park Exposition for being a vulgar photograph of a “scrawny dame.” Brigman angrily withdrew the image from the display.
Brigman quickly gained recognition outside of California. In late 1902, she came across a copy of Camera Work and was captivated by the images and the writings of Alfred Stieglitz. She wrote Stieglitz praising him for the journal, and Stieglitz in turn soon became captivated with Brigman's photography. In 1903 she was listed as an Associate of his famous Photo-Secession and two years later he listed her as an official Member. In 1908 she became a Fellow of the Photo-Secession. Because of Stieglitz's notoriously high standards and because of her distance from the other members in New York, this recognition is a significant indicator of her artistic status. She was the only photographer west of the Mississippi to be so honored. From 1903 to 1908, Stieglitz exhibited Brigman's photos many times, and her photos were printed in three issues of Stieglitz's journal Camera Work. During this same period she often exhibited and corresponded under the name “Annie Brigman,” but in 1911 she dropped the “i” and was known from then on as “Anne.” In 1908 the Secession Club held a special exhibit for her photographs in New York.
Admiration of her talents quickly spread. The Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. staged in 1904 one-person exhibitions of her work. In 1905 her photo entitled The Vigil was shown at the London Salon. She was elected to membership in the British art photographers’ “Linked Ring” and exhibited two “dramatically poetic prints” at its Salon of 1908. Her photograph entitled The Kodak–A Decorative Study was the prize winner selected for the cover of the 1908 Kodak catalogue and her The Moon Cave, along with many of her other photos, was shown at the Worcester Art Museum’s Fourth Annual Exhibition of Photographs. In 1909 she won a gold medal in the Alaska-Yukon Exposition as well as awards in Europe. She continued to exhibit for many years, and was included in the landmark International Exhibition at the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in New York in 1911.
In California, she became revered by West Coast photographers, and her photography influenced many of her contemporaries. In addition, she was also known as an actress and in 1908 she played Sybil of Nepenthe in two performances of a play by Charles Keeler presented by the Studio Club of Berkeley in the Hillside Clubhouse; Brigman even served as a “judge” in a baby beauty contest. She performed as a poet both her own work and more popular pieces such as "Enoch Arden". An admirer of the work of George Wharton James, she photographed him on at least one occasion. In 1915 she worked with Francis Bruguiere on the photography exhibition at the Panama Pacific International Exposition.
In June 1913 Brigman was the subject of a feature article and extensive interview in the San Francisco Call, where she offered revealing insights on the liberation of women in a male-dominated society. That September she completed the illustration for the title page of the first book published by the California Writers’ Club, West Winds, which also included art by Maynard Dixon, Alice Best, George Kegg and Perham Wilhelm Nahl. In August 1921 she held a solo exhibition at the prestigious Gump’s Gallery in San Francisco and two months later contributed to the First Annual Oakland Photographic Salon. In the spring of 1922 she exhibited the work of eight other photographers in her Oakland studio; that fall in the San Francisco studio of Dorothea Lange she was a featured speaker at a symposium on the problems of pictorial photography. Between 1923 and 1926 she displayed her “imaginative nudes” at the International Exhibitions of the Pictorial Photographic Society of San Francisco in the Palace of Fine Arts and the Palace of the Legion of Honor. In her review for the Berkeley Daily Gazette of that Society’s Second International Exhibition, the artist Jennie V. Cannon attacked those who claimed that photography was not “art” and said of Brigman that “the individuality of the works comes out quite as noticeably as in painting, sculpture and etching.”
Between 1908 and the mid-1920s Brigman frequently vacationed in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, where she exhibited her photos at several of the seaside salons. She began to study etching in Carmel under James Blanding Sloan and exhibited her prints “of fine design and feeling” in April 1925 with other Sloan students at the League of Fine Arts in Berkeley and at the City of Paris Galleries in San Francisco. In August 1926 her photos were paired with the block prints of William S. Rice in a show at Morcom’s Gallery in Oakland; the following March she exhibited her photographs at the Fine Arts Society of San Diego. In the summer of 1928 she made the first of several lengthy trips to Covina in southern California. The following March she submitted a photograph of “figures in a somber dance” to the Exhibition of Dance Art at San Francisco’s East-West Gallery.
In 1929 she moved to Long Beach, California where she lived alone in a number of apartments near the ocean. She found inspiration along the picturesque shorelines of the Pacific and held a major solo exhibition at the Bothwell and Cooke Galleries in January 1936; the Los Angeles Times singled out Wings, Design and El Dolor as her “choicest” photographs. In 1940 she lived in Los Angeles and gave her occupation as “writer.” Within three years Brigman had returned to Long Beach, where she was a member of the Poets’ Guild and the Writers’ Market League. At the latter she read her narrative Deepwater Ships that Pass.
Declining vision led her to abandon professional freelance photography in 1930 although she continued photography through the 1940s. Her work evolved from a pure pictorial style to more of a straight photography approach, although she never really abandoned her original vision. Her later close-up photos of sandy beaches and vegetation are near-abstractions in black-and-white. In the mid-1930s she also began taking creative writing classes, and soon she was writing poetry. Encouraged by her writing instructor, she put together a book of her poems and photographs called Songs of a Pagan. She found a publisher for the book in 1941, but because of World War II the book was not printed until 1949, the year before she died.
Brigman died at the age of 80 on 8 February 1950, at her sister's home in El Monte, California.
Brigman's photographs frequently focused on the female nude, dramatically situated in natural landscapes or trees. Many of her photos were taken in the Sierra Nevada in carefully selected locations and featuring elaborately staged poses. Brigman often featured herself as the subject of her images, such as Soul of the Blasted Pine, for which she received the Birmingham Photographic Society's first silver medal. Many of her other photos used her sister as the nude model. After shooting the photographs, she would extensively touch up the negatives with paints, pencil, or superimposition.
Brigman's deliberately counter-cultural images suggested bohemianism and female liberation. Her work challenged the establishment's 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.
- Therese Thau Heyman (1974). Anne Brigman: Pictorial Photographer/Pagan/Member of the Photo-Secession. Oakland Museum of Art. p. 2.
- U.S. Census of 1900, ED346, Sheet 6.
- Camera Craft: A Photographic Monthly (San Francisco, CA), 4, 1902, pp.122, 170.
- Edwards, Robert W. (2012). Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies, Vol. 1. Oakland, Calif.: East Bay Heritage Project. pp. 61, 92–93, 199, 248, 339–41, 688. ISBN 9781467545679. An online facsimile of the entire text of Vol. 1 is posted on the Traditional Fine Arts Organization website (http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/10aa/10aa557.htm Archived 2016-04-29 at the Wayback Machine).
- "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 2011-12-04.
- Sunset (San Francisco, CA), 10.5, 1903, p.465; 11.4, 1903, p.389.
- The Courier (Berkeley, CA), 3 November 1906, p.6.
- The San Francisco Call, 14 July 1907, p.5-M
- The Oakland Tribune: 4 December 1907, p.7; 15 September 1917, p.5; 7 September 1924, p.S-3.
- Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly (New York, NY): 3, 1903, p.6; 9, 1905, p.57.
- Johnson, William (1999). A History of Photography. Hohenzollernring 53 D-50672 Köln: Taschen. p. 410. ISBN 978-3-8228-4777-0.
- Susan Ehrens (1995). Original A Poetic Vision: The Photographs of Anne Brigman. Santa Barbara Museum of Art. p. 23.
- "Photo Men Ask Woman to Exhibit: Mrs. Annie W. Brigman Honored by Secession Club of New York City -- Medal Winner Accorded Special Gallery for Studies of Artistic Merit". The San Francisco Call. 1908-03-06. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
- Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly (New York, NY) 13, 1908, p.52.
- Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly (New York, NY) 25, 1909, p.30.
- Camera Craft: A Photographic Monthly (San Francisco, CA) 15, 1908, pp.30, 206.
- "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 2011-12-04.
- "Camera Artist to Visit in New York: Mrs. Annie W. Brigman Plans an Extended Visit to the Atlantic Coast". The San Francisco Call. 1910-02-04. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
- "Studio Club Acts in Two New Plays". The San Francisco Call. 1908-03-31. p. 4. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
- "Events in the Women's Clubs in Alameda County". The San Francisco Call. 1908-10-26. p. 4. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
- "Baskets Exhibit Indians' Symbols". The San Francisco Call. 1909-05-29. p. 13. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
- Herny, Ed, Shelley Rideout and Katie Wadell (2008). Berkeley Bohemia: Artists and Visionaries of the Early 20th Century (Gibbs Smith, Publisher), p. 82.
- The San Francisco Call, 8 June 1913, p.33.
- San Francisco Chronicle, 22 October 1922, p.4-D.
- Berkeley Daily Gazette, 1 September 1923, p.6.
- The Oakland Tribune: 26 April 1925, p.6-S; 26 July 1925, p.4-S.
- Los Angeles Times, 12 January 1936, p.3-9.
- Trainer, Laureen; edited by Amy Scott (2006). Yosemite: Art of an American Icon. University of California Press. p. 195.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
- "A Century Ago, She Photographed Herself in Nature, Naked and Unafraid". KQED. 2018-10-10. Retrieved 2019-03-02.
- Emily J. Hamilton (1907-07-14). "Lens Studies of a Photo-Secessionist". The San Francisco Sunday Call. Retrieved 2011-12-04.
- Getty Museum. Anne W. Brigman
- Alexander Nemerov. "Anne Brigman." Lecture: Yale University, New Haven, CT. 5 October 2006.
- Brigman, Anne. Songs of a Pagan. (Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1949)
- Ehrens, Susan, and Anne Brigman. A poetic vision: the photographs of Anne Brigman. Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1995.
- Glauber, Carole. Songs of a Pagan: A Study of Anne Brigman’s Poetry, Photo Review, Spring 2000.
- Heyman, Therese Thau. Anne Brigman: Pictorial Photographer, Pagan, Member of the Photo-secession:[an Exhibition] The Oakland Museum, Oakes Gallery, September 17 Through November 17, 1974. Oakland Museum, Art Department, 1974.
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