A nude woman is demurely standing intertwined with a familiar-looking Tahoe Sierra Sugar pine tree reaching up to the sky. The black and white photo is detailed, capturing raw physicality in the mountainous landscape. The woman behind the lens who took the picture is Anne Brigman, a pioneering feminist photographer, who made her mark in the art world in the early 1900s. She lived from 1869 to 1950 and turned to photography in 1902.
Her work will be featured at Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nev., from Sept. 29 through Jan. 27, 2019. The exhibit, “Anne Brigman: A Visionary in Modern Photography,” will feature a retrospective comprehensive exhibition of at least 250 of her photographs, curated from public and private collections.
“Covering her came about in 2015 when we had the ‘Vision of Tahoe: A Visual History’ exhibit, which featured a historical survey of Lake Tahoe. Five of Brigman’s photos were displayed and people were fascinated with her work,” says Nevada Museum of Art chief curator Ann Wolfe.
Brigman was a pictorial photographer in Oakland in the early 1900s, working at a time when there were mostly male photographers. However, Brigman got the idea to capture women posing outdoors in natural environments, conjuring up projections of beauty, identity, vulnerability and femininity through her photographs.
“Anne was a pioneering photographer in her field. To be photographing in the nude in the landscape in 1905 was a radical gesture,” Wolfe says.
The photographer, who grew up in a conservative missionary family, no doubt rocked the boat with her unconventional art. However, it got her noticed by prominent figures in the art world on both the East and West coasts and she was deemed an important pictorialist of her time. She lived in Berkeley and was part of the flourishing bohemian community. It was rumored she was a close friend of author Jack London and architect Charles Keeler. American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, one of the pioneers responsible for making photography a recognized art form, also took notice of Brigman’s work and agreed that she was one of the innovative photographers of that era.
Although the idea of feminism and feminist art didn’t truly take hold until 70 years after Brigman released her first photograph, she is often attributed as being one of the first to kick-start the movement.
“The birth of the feminist movement in the 1960s to 70s came about where women were reclaiming and reshaping their identities. Brigman’s work emphasizes a feminist relationship with nature,” says Wolfe.
To further acknowledge Brigman’s contributions, the Nevada Museum of Art will also have a sister exhibition, “Laid Bare in the Landscape,” featuring more modern images from 21st Century photographers reminiscent of Brigman’s work. This exhibit will have examples chosen for their outdoor photography, performance art and goddess imagery with artists such as Judy Chicago, Jo Spence and Imogen Cunningham.
Trails & Vistas Executive Director Nancy Tieken Lopez created a special art hike, “Unseen” on Oct. 6, to retrace Brigman’s steps in conjunction with the exhibit that will include art stops at Donner Ski Ranch.
“Anne took the majority of her photos in Desolation Wilderness, Echo Lake and the Donner Pass area and Trails & Vistas was also inspired with her connection to that region. They carefully curated this great group of dancers; this is a great opportunity to bridge the past and the present,” says Wolfe.
Because Brigman was also a noted poet, the museum, along with Rizzoli Electa, is releasing a 400-page book of photography along with her republished book of poetry titled, “Songs of a Pagan” that was originally released in 1949.
Anne Brigman: The Symposium
Sept. 29 | Nevada Museum of Art
Trails & Vistas “Unseen” art hike
Oct. 6 | Donner Ski Ranch
“Part of the museum’s ongoing focus is to define art history for our region and make Northern Nevada and California aware that there’s been active artists here since the early 1900s. Many people have an affinity and love for this place, so to rediscover an artist related to this place is intriguing,” Wolfe says. | nevadaart.org