Imogen Cunningham was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1883. After graduating from the University of Washington (1907) Cunningham worked with Edward Curtis, a photographer of Native Indians.
In 1909 Cunningham studied photographic chemistry at Technische Hochschule in Dresden, Germany. When she returned to the United States the following year, she opened her own portrait studio in Seattle. Over the next few years she concentrated on soft-focus photographs.
Cunningham moved to San Francisco in 1917. Her work consisted mainly of plant studies until she met Edward Weston in 1923. Eventually the couple were to join with Ansel Adams to form the Group f/64. The group became associated with sharply focused pictures such as Cunningham's Two Callas (1929). In 1932 Cunningham began photographing political figures and Hollywood stars for Vanity Fair.
In the 1960s Cunningham ran a portrait gallery and taught at the San Francisco Art Institute. She also photographed the beat generation and flower children in San Francisco and published the book, Imogen Cunningham Photographs, 1910-1973 (1974).
In her final years Cunningham began a project to photograph people in their nineties. The book, After Ninety (1977) was published after her death on 24th June, 1976.