Vision Gallery, San Francisco, California
Purchased by Akron Art Museum, 1996
1997 - 1998: "75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1996 - 1997: "A History of Women Photographers" tour, organized by Akron Art Museum
10/19/96 - 1/4/97, The New York Public Library, New York
2/13/97 - 5/4/97, The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC
6/7/97 - 8/17/97, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California
9/6/97 -11/2/97, Akron Art Museum
Signed, dated and titled in pencil at back of mount
Two Forms, 1963
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Couched in a quintessentially modernist style that emphasizes clarity and simplicity, Two Forms nevertheless exemplifies Ruth Bernhard's profound belief that camera images should be enigmatic rather than documentary. This photograph depicting two human torsos—one dark-skinned and one white, one facing forward and one backward—does more than merely record the shapes of two elegant human bodies. It suggests, in the photographer's words, "mysteries that lie behind our limited human perceptions."
Paradoxically the two bodies bring to mind both classical marble sculpture and sentient living entities. Indeed, when working with models, Bernhard sometimes thinks of herself as a sculptor desirous of creating beautiful form through the agency of light, and at other times has considered light to be "the pencil that draws the picture I'm trying to create." Despite its economy of information, the image also hints at tender relationships among women and among people of different racial backgrounds, and it seeks to arouse all-embracing rather than particularized sensations.
Following training in Berlin at the Academy of Art and immigration to the United States, Bernhard began a career in 1930 as an advertising photographer in New York. Through contacts with prominent industrial designers, she photographed a wide variety of handmade and manufactured objects and eventually produced tasteful images for Macy's and Sloane's department stores and for the magazine Advertising Age.
A chance meeting with Edward Weston during a visit to California in 1935 proved to be a defining experience for Bernhard. Inspired by his example and precept, she began to consider photography a medium of artistic expression rather than just a means of livelihood. After relocating to the West Coast permanently in 1949, she was introduced to the work of Ansel Adams and Minor White, whose approaches to clarity in one case and ambiguity in the other also exerted a telling influence on her vision.
Bernhard works with ordinary materials—shells, leaves, the nude human form—which she composes and lights to reveal elusive meanings. Her images express her keen conviction that photography is, in her words, "a gift . . . [that] reaches into dimensions that words cannot touch."
- Naomi Rosenblum, 2001
1. Ruth Bernhard (1993), not paginated.
3. Ibid. See also Mitchell, 32.
Alinder, James. Collecting Light: The Photographs of Ruth Bernhard. Carmel, Calif.: Friends of Photography, 1979.
Mitchell, Margaretta. "Ruth Bernhard." In Recollections: Ten Women of Photography. New York: A Studio Book, Viking, 1979.
Ruth Bernhard: Known and Unknown. With essay by Ilee Kaplan and chronology and bibliography by Marina Freeman. Long Beach, Calif.: University Art Museum, California State University, 1996.
Ruth Bernhard: The Collection of Ginny Williams. Denver: The Denver Art Museum, 1993.