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Ruth Bernhard

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Ruth Bernhard
20th century Photographer
American (born Germany), (October 14, 1905–December 18, 2006)
In 1927 Bernhard moved to New York, where her father was already living. She worked as an assistant to Ralph Steiner in Delineator magazine, but he terminated her employment for indifferent performance. She used her severance pay to finance her own photographic equipment.[2] In 1935, she chanced to meet Edward Weston on the beach in Santa Monica.[3] She would later say;

I was unprepared for the experience of seeing his pictures for the first time. It was overwhelming. It was lightning in the before me was indisputable evidence of what I had thought possible—an intensely vital artist whose medium was photography.[citation needed]

By the late-1920s, while living in Manhattan, Bernhard was heavily involved in the lesbian sub-culture of the artistic community, becoming friends with photographer Bernice Abbott and her lover, critic Elizabeth McCausland. By 1934 Bernhard was almost exclusively photographing women in the nude.[citation needed] It would be this art form for which she would eventually become best known.[4]

Though many people were unaware of this, Bernhard produced the photography for the first catalog published by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The name of this exhibition was "The Art of The Machine." Her father Lucian Bernhard set up the meeting with MoMA for her. [citation needed]

By 1944 she had met and became involved with artist and designer Eveline (Evelyn) Phimister. The two moved in together, and remained together for the next ten years. They first moved to Carmel, California, where Bernhard worked with Group f/64. Soon, finding Carmel a difficult place in which to earn a living, they moved to Hollywood where she fashioned a career as a commercial photographer. In 1953, they moved to San Francisco.[5]

Most of Bernhard's work is studio-based, ranging from simple still lives to complex nudes. In the 1940s she worked with the conchologist Jean Schwengel.[6] She works almost exclusively in black and white, though there are rumours that she has done some color work as well. She also is known for her lesbian themed works, most notably Two Forms (1962). In that work, a black woman and a white woman who were real-life lovers are featured with their nude bodies pressed against one another.[7]

A departure was a collaboration with Melvin Van Peebles (as "Melvin Van"), then a young cable car gripman (driver) in San Francisco. Van Peebles wrote the text and Bernhard took the unposed photographs for The Big Heart, a book about life on the cable cars.

In the 1960s Bernhard started to work with Joe Folberg who owned Vision Gallery in San Francisco. Folberg single-handedly[citation needed] introduced the idea of limited edition photography prints to help photographers get a fair return and to build value into their work. Bernhard and Folberg worked together until Folberg's death, when the gallery split with Debra Heimerdinger taking over operations in North America and Folberg's son Neil moving the "Vision Gallery" to Jerusalem. Heimerdinger has worked with Bernhard to introduce platinum prints to her portfolio. Heimerdinger sells Bernhard's prints even today.[8]

In 1967, Bernhard met United States Air Force Colonel Price Rice, an African American man ten years younger than her, and the two became lovers. They would remain together until his death in 1999. In her 90s, Bernhard cooperated with biographer Margaretta K. Mitchell in the book Ruth Bernhard, Between Art and Life, publicly revealing her many affairs with women and men throughout her lifetime.[9]

Bernhard was inducted into the National Women's Caucus for Art in 1981. Bernhard was hailed by Ansel Adams as "the greatest photographer of the nude".[10]

Bernhard died in San Francisco at age 101.[11]


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