Sonya Noskowiak

(Leipzig, Germany, 1900 - 1975, Greenbrae, California)

American, born Germany

Sonya Noskowiak lived primarily in Chile until her family immigrated to California in 1915. After moving to San Francisco at age nineteen in order to enroll in secretarial school, Noskowiak began working as a receptionist in the studio of photographer and horticulturalist Johan Hagemeyer in 1925. Hagemeyer introduced her to Edward Weston, with whom she lived and worked in Carmel, California from 1929 to 1934. Noskowiak modeled for Weston and cared for his children, while Weston taught her printing techniques and encouraged her work. By 1932 Noskowiak joined Group f.64, and her work appeared along with that of fellow members in their first group exhibition at the M. H. de Young Museum. Named for the smallest aperture on large format cameras (f-stop 64), Group f.64’s members created high-contrast black and white photographs that marked a departure from the soft-focus pictorialism of many earlier photographers. In 1933, Noskowiak had solo shows in San Francisco, Carmel and Oakland, California.

After her relationship with Weston ended in 1934, Noskowiak opened a commercial photography studio on Union Street in San Francisco, which she maintained for three decades. From 1936 to 1937, she worked (along with Weston and six other California photographers) for the Federal Art Project division of the Works Progress Administration. Around this time, she shifted from close-up, abstract nature studies to large-scale landscapes that bear evidence of human labor. At the same time, Noskowiak developed a reputation among West Coast writers and artists as a skilled portrait photographer. Noskowiak stopped making art photographs in the mid-1940s but continued doing commercial work until the early 1960s. She was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1965 and died ten years later. Much of her work is archived at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona.

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