Imogen Cunningham’s photographic study of the magnolia flower lasted from 1923 until 1925 and resulted in this stunning, iconic masterwork.
Magnolia Blossom displays Cunningham’s evolution to a more modern approach to her photography. The bold sensuality and oscillation between representation and abstraction that is visible in Magnolia Blossom can be observed in other modern artworks of the 1920s, such as Georgia O’Keeffe’s early large-scale flower paintings. Further, Cunningham also achieved a surprisingly strong sense of emotional vulnerability in her botanical studies. The way in which the plants spill out toward the viewer, free of inhibition or restraint, elicits an intimacy that relates to her nude self-portraits, so courageously made for a woman photographer at the beginning of the 20th century. In this respect, Cunningham’s impact on photography continues later into the 20th century. Robert Mapplethorpe’s focus on eroticism that links his floral studies to his confrontational figurative works and Irving Penn’s elegant exploration of the innards of flowers, for just two examples, are in many ways born out of Cunningham’s adventurous work.