“I wanted to go and be free.”
In the early 1900s, an original Bay Area Bohemian hightailed it to the High Sierras, where she tossed aside fussy Victorian dresses in favor of britches and boots, and spent her days climbing mountains with her dog Rory, a few of her women friends, and her camera and tripod in tow.
The Bohemian’s name was Anne Brigman (1869-1950).
Her pictures were revolutionary: female nudes that defied the male gaze even as they celebrated women’s bodies and boldly asserted their place in the landscape.
Pronouncing her an emblem of unbridled female sexuality, Alfred Stieglitz promoted her to his circle—the first Westerner and second woman he deigned to honor in this way. When she rejected his vision, he nixed the solo exhibition he’d promised her, instead promoting a young woman named Georgia O’Keefe, whom he’d soon start photographing in poses inspired by/stolen from Brigman’s work.
She kept making art; she never stopped. Dorothea Lange adored her, as did Lange’s lifelong friend and fellow photographer Imogen Cunningham. They saw in her a new way of being women—women who made art and forged lives on their own terms.
History did not do Anne Brigman justice–of course not! By her death she’d fallen into obscurity. Then, over a hundred years after Alfred Stieglitz lured her East with the promise of an exhibition, NYU was set to put on a major show of Anne Brigman’s work. COVID-19 intervened.
But! You can see her photographs in the gorgeous new book Anne Brigman: A Visionary in Modern Photography and this lovely short film.