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Picturing Imogen

In the March issue of Notes from the Horn Book, in honor of Women’s History Month, I picked out some recent picture-book biographies focusing on women who left their marks on society. Another worthy offering is Imogen: The Mother of Modernism and Three Boys (Cameron + Company, December 2012) by Amy Novesky, author of the 2012 Boston Globe–Horn Book nonfiction honor book, Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased. Novesky presents the story of early-twentieth-century photographer Imogen Cunningham, who, like O’Keeffe, was a pinnacle (female) figure in Modern art.

Cunningham came from a family that “didn’t have much,” but when as a teenager she declared that she wanted to be a photographer, her father built her a darkroom.  The book chronicles her start in photography, her marriage, and giving birth to her three sons, but overall focuses on the ways Cunningham balanced — and integrated — her art with her family life. Novesky has a special knack for conveying an artist’s life and craft in simple prose; through spare text she captures how Cunningham “found a little beauty in everything,” especially the everyday activities of her sons. Illustrator Lisa Congdon’s homespun-looking art — often laid out in a photo scrapbook–like format — is similarly subdued, nicely embodying Cunningham’s subjects. This ultimately optimistic story of one woman’s success, personal fulfillment, and artistic legacy is supplemented by an appended biographical note and a few additional resources for exploration (including the URL of the Imogen Cunningham Trust website).

For even more recommended biographies, see our updated Women’s History Month reading list.

Katrina Hedeen About Katrina Hedeen

Katrina Hedeen is managing editor of The Horn Book Guide.

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