Kickass Women in History: Anne Brigman

Recently I read Prospects of a Woman by Wendy Voorsanger, and discovered a new Kickass Woman in its pages. One of the characters is loosely based on real-life photographer Anne Brigman, a passionate traveller and artist who was a leading figure in the Photo-Secession Movement in the arts. The real-life photographer was in California later than her fictional counterpart, but the real and fictional women share a common artistic style and personal philosophy.

Anne was born Anne Wardrope Nott to missionary parents in Hawaii in 1869. The family moved to California in 1885 when Anne was 16. She married a sea captain and went on voyages with him. Together they became part of the artistic community in California. They seem to have gotten along well up to a point – and that point came in around 1900, when they separated due to Anne wanting to devote herself to art rather than matrimony.

black and white profile photo of Anne Brigman as a young woman
self portrait of Anne Brigman

Anne adored California. She was a poet, an artist, an actor, and a dancer. Her lasting fame, however, came about because of her work in photography. She often had her sister or her friends pose nude against the backdrop of the trees and rocks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Later in her life she lived near the Pacific Ocean where she photographed patterns of wind and sand, with women emerging from rocky shore caves and dancing on the beach.

Anne was an early adopter of photo manipulation, using paint and tools in the darkroom to alter the images on negatives. Her images feel dreamy, mythical, and organic. She explored the female form as a beautiful and emotive force of nature.

As a member of the Photo-Secession movement, she promoted the idea that photography could be as legitimate an art form as any other, and that the actions of the photographer in every step of the photography process meant more than merely pointing the camera at something pretty.

Anne’s eyesight began to fail in her 60s and she adopted a more straightforward means of taking photographs and spent more of her energies on writing poetry. She lived to be 80 years old, after a life spent sailing, hiking, exploring, and creating art in many ways, as well as nurturing other artists in her popular salons. She left a legacy of feminist art, expressed in this quote:

Fear is the great chain which binds women and prevents their development, and fear is the one apparently big thing which has no foundation in life.

This lovely video goes into detail about Anne’s life and art:

And you can find more at this article from the New York Times.

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  1. 1
    chacha1 says:

    I discovered Anne Brigman’s art about 30 years ago but never looked into her biography. Thanks for this!

  2. 2
    Kareni says:

    Thank you for introducing me to Anne Brigman, Carrie. She sounds like a fascinating woman.

  3. 3
    Emily C says:

    I love this series of posts, especially when there’s a book review to go with it.

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