The Bubble – Anne Brigman – 1910
This image caught my eye in a shop when I was in my mid-20’s. I bought a print, and although I’d carried it with me wherever I moved through the years, I’d never asked myself what it was about the image that I found so engaging. Two decades later when trying to describe it to someone, I suddenly became a bit emotional without initially understanding why. Actually employing words to describe it was much like when using words to describe dreams – the meaning becomes apparent in the concrete words of its description: it is an image of a naked (exposed, alone) woman with darkness behind her reaching for something shining.
The print is rolled, semi-tattered, into a cardboard tube that’s been misplaced somewhere through the last 5 years of home renovation, but through the marvel of modern life that is the internet, I was able to find this photograph again by simply Googling words like “sepia tone Anne 1910 photography”. I’d remembered her surname incorrectly and managed to find her and this particular work of hers anyway. Amazing.
In celebration of rediscovering both photographer and photograph, I thought I’d share a few words to introduce her to any of you fellow art-loving blogger friends who might not know of her already.
She was born in 1869 to missionary parents in Honolulu, moved to California with her family at the age of 16, and married a sea captain in 1894. They separated in 1910. She had been trained as a painter, but took up photography in 1902 and eventually contacted the renowned photographer Alfred Steiglitz (married to painter Georgia O’Keeffe) in New York. He liked her work and asked her to contribute to his photography magazine (Camera Work) and to join his group, The Photo-Secessionists. She was one of the few women in that group and the only member west of the Mississippi.
Although she spent some time in New York, she did the vast majority of her work in California, often using herself or her sister or her friends as the models (women photographing nudes was considered avante-garde in those post-Victorian days). She did much of her photography in natural settings, often in the Sierra Nevadas. She was a part of the bohemian artist culture in San Francisco and kept company with other artists living in California at the time including Ansel Adams and Jack London. Vanity Fair called her “one of the 7 most important photographers in the world” and although her photos were part of a style from the early 1900’s called The Pictorialists, her work can be thought of as Symbolist art, or art that reflects an idea or emotion of the artist. She painted and drew directly on her negatives, used superimposition, and used techniques to soften and blur her images to make them more atmospheric. A year before her death in 1950 she published a book of her poetry and photography called Songs of a Pagan.