Born in Hawaii, Anne Brigman moved to California when she was sixteen years old. Trained as a painter, she turned to photography in 1902. “[S]lim, hearty, unaffected women of early maturity living a hardy out-of-door life in high boots and jeans, toughened to wind and sun” were Brigman’s favored subjects, and she photographed them nude in the landscape of the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California.
Brigman was one of two original California members of the art photography group the Photo-Secession, founded by Alfred Stieglitz, and she was the only Western photographer to be made a Fellow of the group. Three issues of Camera Work featured her photographs, and the British Linked Ring society of photographers elected her a member. Around 1929 she moved to Long Beach in Southern California, where she continued to photograph, focusing on a series of sand erosions. A year before her death in Eagle Rock, near Los Angeles, in 1950, she published a book of her poems and photographs titled Songs of a Pagan. Brigman’s approach to photography seems to have been influenced by a strange blend of pagan mythology, European Romanticism, and her childhood exposure to the native beliefs of the Hawaiian people. Other artists had photographed subjects…even nudes…in natural settings long before Brigman. What made her work different is she saw her subjects as integralto the setting. To her, the people she photographed were just as much a part of the natural world as the trees and stones. She wasn’t photographing people IN nature; she was photographing people AS nature. “In all of my years of work with the lens,” she wrote, “I’ve dreamed of and loved to work with the human figure – to embody it in rocks and trees, to make it part of the elements, not apart from them.” She often sought to do that by portraying people as mythical, magical creatures. She once described much of her work as “the partially realized fancies that flourished in the golden or thunderous days of two months in a wild part of the Sierras where gnomes and elves and spirits of the trees reveal themselves under certain mystical incantations.”