Tree whisperer, dryad portraitist: Anne Brigman

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Storm Tree, 1915

Bohemian and free-spirited Anne Brigman was a photographer whose work seems to draw upon a strange and wonderful blend of pagan mythology, European symbolism, and “her childhood exposure to the native beliefs of the Hawaiian people.”

Best known for dramatic photographs of the female nude, Anne made nature her studio –California’s spectacular and still relatively remote Sierra Nevada Mountains –and fully integrated the human body into the landscape.

I read the following about Anne Brigman and couldn’t stop thinking about it:

“She visited the Sierras often enough that she developed what she called “friendships” with several individual trees and peaks. In 1926, after she’d become an established photographer, Brigman wrote an article for Camera Craft magazine in which she described her relationship with one such tree. “One day on one of my wanderings I found a juniper – the most wonderful juniper that I’ve met in my eighteen years of friendship among them…It was a great character like the Man of Gallilee or Moses the Law-giver, or the Lord Buddha, or Abraham Lincoln…Storm and stress well borne made it strong and beautiful. I climbed into it. Here was the perfect place for a figure; here the place for the right arm to rest, and even though my feet were made clumsy by boots, I could see and feel where the feet would fit perfectly into the cleft that went to its base.”

Brigman describes how she spent a couple days “caring” for the tree; tidying up around its roots, removing unattractive stones and pebbles, trimming “small extraneous branches” and generally preparing it for a photograph that she might never take. ”

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. I would love to have this book on my shelf, but at $550+, well, I suppose I will have to admire this pagan priestess of photography and her gentle dryads from afar.

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The Heart of the Storm, 1914

Female Nude Standing on Large Rock Over a Lake, 1923

Female Nude Standing on Large Rock Over a Lake, 1923

The Dying Cedar

The Dying Cedar

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