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Capturing Mills: Imogen Cunningham’s photography

Photo by Halie Johnson

Viewers might never guess that photographer Imogen Cunningham's least favorite subjects were women, from the looks of one exhibit that debuted Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the Mills Art Museum.

Cunningham felt that women were too fidgety to be photographed, according to senior Pam Caserta who researched Cunningham and curated "A Portrait of Mills: Photographs by Imogen Cunningham." The show was in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Mills' long-time architectural firm, Ratcliff.

The opening reception presented a collection of work that "captures the campus in a period of economic blossoming and expansion" according to an exhibit placard. Visitors witnessed pictures of moments at Mills from 1916 until Cunningham died in the 1970s. Photos of classroom life depict students interacting with what appears to be a predominantly male faculty, while familiar landmarks aren't so familiar in historical context.

The show does highlight flowers, Cunningham's favorite photographic subject. Caserta said she decided to place a portrait of Cunningham's dad centrally in the exhibit because of the influence she learned he had over the artist's success. Caserta said, "He didn't want her to be a 'dirty photographer' but if she didn't have [his] support she wouldn't have become what she became."

Cunningham also had limited support from her husband, Mills art professor Roi Partridge, who Caserta said was unsupportive. Partridge divorced Cunningham when she took a job with Vanity Fair magazine, an assertion of independence he did not appreciate.

Stephan Jost, director of the Mills College Art Museum, said "I'm really proud that this show is about Mills; its [curator is] a Mills student," and he hopes Mills students will come enjoy the show and see how the college has evolved.

"A Portrait of Mills" is on display at the Mills Art Museum now through March 12.