Alma Lavenson

Alma Ruth Lavenson (20 May 1897, San Fran­cisco – 19 September 1989, Pied­mont, Cali­fornia) was a leading Amer­ican photog­ra­pher of the first half of the 20th century. She worked with and was close friends with Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston and other photo­graphic masters of the period.

The daughter of a dry-goods busi­nessman, Lavenson appar­ently decided to become a photog­ra­pher on her own after enrolling at the Univer­sity of Cali­fornia, Berkeley, in 1915. Her first photos were snap­shots of family and friends taken with a small Kodak camera. She learned to develop and print her nega­tives by watching a tech­ni­cian at an Oakland drug­store in the early 1920s.[1] Her first published photo­graph, an image of Zion Canyon enti­tled “The Light Beyond,” appeared on the cover of Photo-Era maga­zine in December 1927. In her early work she concen­trated the geometric forms of struc­tures and their place­ment in the land­scape. She frequently exhib­ited in photo­graphic salons and became a member of the influ­en­tial Picto­rial Photog­ra­phers of America.

In 1930 she was intro­duced to Adams, Cunningham and Weston by art collector Albert Bender. Two years later she was invited to partic­i­pate in the famous Group f/​64 show at the M.H. de Young Memo­rial Museum, although there is some uncer­tainty about whether she should actu­ally be called a “member” of Group f/​64. The announce­ment for the show at the de Young Museum listed seven photog­ra­phers in Group f/​64 and said “From time to time various other photog­ra­phers will be asked to display their work with Group f/​64. Those invited for the first showing are: Preston Holder, Consuelo Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, Brett Weston.” However, in 1934 the group posted a notice in Camera Craft maga­zine that said “The F:64 group includes in its member­ship such well known names as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, John Paul Edwards, Imogene [sic] Cunningham, Consuela [sic] Kanaga and several others.” Lavenson was not mentioned by name in that notice, but her name is always listed as being asso­ci­ated with the group because of her place in the first exhi­bi­tion.

In 1933 Lavenson began taking a series of photographs of aban­doned build­ings in the Mother Lode region of Cali­fornia. She continued docu­menting the remains of the Gold Rush period for more than two decades, and her images are now noted both for their artistic beauty and as a record of a vanishing piece of the Cali­fornia land­scape.

Lavenson’s “Self-Portrait (with Hands) was one of the most admired images of the 20th century. In 1996 – 1997, this photo­graph was fash­ioned into a huge banner and adorned the entrance to the New York Public Library’s exhi­bi­tion on the history of women photog­ra­phers. In 1999, the Univer­sity of Cali­fornia hosted a major retro­spec­tive on the photog­raphy of Lavenson and Imogen Cunningham., which used the self-portrait as a central image. The self-portrait is used as a cover photo­graph for the book 101 Years of Cali­fornia Photog­raphy (1992). Recently a print of Lavenson’s self-portrait was sold at auction for more than $110,000.

Alma Lavenson remained mostly an amateur photog­ra­pher, but her inspi­ra­tion has been a contin­uing influ­ence on gener­a­tions of women photog­ra­phers.

From Wikipedia