#15/16: Imogen Cunningham and Rondal Partridge

June 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

I had met Joshua Partridge and his father Rondal (Imogen Cunningham’s grandson and son), years ago at Photo San Francisco. Not only did we meet Joshua and Rondal there, but also Ruth Bernhard who was being escorted by her close friend, Michael Kenna. It seemed to be a star-filled show and it was, indeed, when photography was still a film-based medium for the most part.

In 2010, I received a call from Joshua Partridge. Joshua explained to me that he wanted very much to contribute to Imogen’s legacy, something he hadn’t yet done, before he closed his lab to then contemplate the idea of retiring to a monastery and living as a monk. He suggested that we do a project on Imogen Cunningham. Intrigued, I flew out to Berkeley, California to meet Joshua, his brother Aaron, and his sister Meg, Director of the Imogen Cunningham Trust. That was the beginning of the the trilogy of books we embarked on with the Imogen Cunningham Trust.

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The first title in 2012, Imogen Cunningham Platinum and Palladium, must have been a great surprise to many because not only did it include ten platinum Imogen Cunningham Trust prints and three large palladium prints printed by Joshua of three iconic images, as well as a thirty year-old print printed by Rondal from her glass plates, but also, a vintage print printed by Imogen herself. Its success was immediate.

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The next year, 2013, Imogen Cunningham: Symbolist, followed also to great success with a collection of ten platinum Trust prints of her early symbolist work plus three wonderfully colorful free-standing gum-over-platinum prints.

“What influence, one might wonder, could William Morris…have had on the work of the great Modernist American photographer Imogen Cunningham? Hardly any, one might assume. Yet she claimed him as an influence, and his influence was intellectual, social, and visual.”  -John Wood

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During a trip to Berkeley and while planning the next two titles with the Imogen Cunningham Trust, the first stop was Rondal Partridge’s home. I had a rare and thorough tour of Rondal’s personality, home and archive. I was so awestruck at his raw talent and that he spent his entire life as a working photographer, that I proposed at our 21st Editions summit in Saxton’s River (the home of 21st Editions co-founder John Wood) a project with Ron. In fact, what I did was lay out some one hundred photographs to our team without disclosing the artist, and it was a unanimous hands-down yes by all even before knowing who made them! At that moment The Symmetry of Endeavor was born.

After the experience of seeing Ron’s work John Wood wrote in his Introduction, “Rondal Partridge is one of the greatest and most visually exciting photographers of the twentieth century. His vision is thoroughly and completely his own, and that his name is not yet enshrined in the pantheon of the other greats is a tragic accident of photographic history, an omission which likely has more to do with his mother’s great fame than with a serious consideration of his art.”

Interesting to note and unusual, indeed, is the fact that Ron was such a prolific and unrelenting artist, that he would generally only print one or just a few prints of any one negative. He was always creatively driven to find the next image, something new, something not seen, something eclectic. As a result platinum prints printed by Ron are rare, while the number of subjects and variations on subjects are plentiful. Ron was kind enough to donate one vintage print of his own to each of the portfolios of twelve platinum prints created for The Symmetry of Endeavor. Today, Ron is in his 96th year and still in Berkeley, California.

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