Anne Wardrope Nott was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on December 3, 1869. Her parents, Samuel and Mary Ellen Nott, were missionaries, and their travels eventually led them to settle in northern California. At age 24, Miss Nott married sea captain Martin Brigman, and by the early twentieth century, she began studying photography. What began as a bored housewife’s hobby soon became an obsession and the budding young photographer’s Pictorialist work was officially recognized when she became a member of Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession movement in 1903. This was a huge honor for Ms. Brigman because not only was she the first Westerner to obtain membership in the exclusive society, but she was also the only woman. The photography industry at this time was very much a ‘men’s club,’ and a woman gaining entry was no minor accomplishment.
Despite her mainstream acceptance, Ms. Brigman remained a nonconformist photographer, incorporating a myriad of influences including nineteenth-century Romanticism, Hawaiian ritualism, and pagan mythology. She viewed the female body not as distinct from nature, but as blending in with nature. Her female nudes appear almost ethereal within a landscape darkened by long shadows. It was often impossible to determine where the landscape ended and the human form began, which for Ms. Brigman, was precisely the point. In the pre-Photoshop age, critics accused her of staging her nature photographs in a studio to achieve her desire effect, a charge she vigorously denied. Many of her photographs were taken during lengthy camping trips to the Sierra Nevada mountains, which required carrying, in addition to camping gear and supplies, a 4x5 Korona view camera (which alone weighed 7 lbs.) and a No. 1A Ansco folding camera; several lenses; a wooden tripod; and fragile glass plates. To achieve her trademark shadows, Ms. Brigman used a K.1 ray filter, which made time exposures challenging, but always worth the effort. Always generous with her time, she mentored several young photographers throughout her long career, most notably Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, and Edward Weston.
In 1929, Ms. Brigman relocated to southern California, to be close to her two sisters. Throughout the 1930s, she concentrated on landscape abstracts and documenting the effects of beach erosion. At the decade’s end, she began taking creative writing courses, and with her eyesight failing, poetry replaced photography as her central focus. In 1949, her poetry text, Songs of a Pagan, was published, and the following year, on February 18, 1950, Anne W. Brigman died at the age of 80. She once summed up her long photographic career with this observation: “In all my years of work with the lens, I’ve dreamed of and loved to work with the human figure – to embody it in rocks and trees, to make it part of the elements, not apart from them.” As her work collectively testifies, she succeeded admirably. A three-month retrospective entitled “Anne Brigman: A Visionary in Modern Photography,” opened on September 29, 2018 at the Nevada Museum of Art, the E. L. Wiegand Gallery, both in Reno, Nevada; and the Donald W. Reynolds Visual Arts Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
2018 Anne Brigman (URL: https://americanart.si.edu/artist/anne-brigman-6669).
2018 Anne Brigman: A Visionary in Modern Photography at the Nevada Museum of Art (URL: https://www.juxtapoz.com/news/photography/anne-brigman-a-visionary-in-modern-photography-at-the-nevada-museum-of-art).
2000 Carr, O'Keeffe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own by Sharyn Rohlfsen Udall (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), p. 142.
1978 The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz by Weston J. Naef (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), pp. 278-283.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 213, 1128.
2012 Faking it: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop by Mia Fineman (New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art), pp. 85, 87
1926 Camera Craft, Vol. XXXIII (San Francisco, CA: Photographers’ Association of California), pp. 155-163.
2010 Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art), p. 192.
2017 Seizing the Light: A Social & Aesthetic History of Photography by Robert Hirsch (New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis), p. 207.
2015 Stanford Art History Scholar Explores Nature and Culture in Frost and Forests by Fabrice Palumbo-Liu (URL: https://news.stanford.edu/pr/2015/pr-trees-cantor-exhibit-041415.html).
2018 Sunday Salon with Greg Fallis: Anne Brigman (URL: https://www.utata.org/sundaysalon/anne-brigman).
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