Photographer Imogen Cunningham was not naturally inclined to stay home. Throughout her long and prolific career she travelled and exhibited widely, was celebrated for her portraits ranging from the rich-and-famous to the anonymous citizens of San Francisco, and even became a minor celebrity late in her life, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and easily identified walking her hometown's streets with her iconic black cape and peace sign pin.
For a brief period in between all of this activity, Cunningham was more-or-less bound to her home. In 1917, she moved with her 18-month-old son from Seattle to San Francisco to join her husband; less than one month later, she gave birth to twins. As the mother of three young children, her life was suddenly largely circumscribed by the boundaries of the family's Oakland home. But Cunningham did not allow these circumstances to impede her work-her ambition and drive would, simply, not allow for it. Instead, she turned inward to subjects within her home-or more accurately, created subjects within her home-by cultivating a garden in her backyard.
In a 1959 interview, Cunningham recalled: "The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn't get out of my own backyard when my children were small." And later, with her characteristic sharp wit: "I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time." True enough about the circumstances, but these direct statements belie the care and attention with which Cunningham shot her celebrated botanical works, such as Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels (1925).