Ruth Bernhard

Ruth Bernhard’s classical black-and-white photographs of the female nude and inanimate objects earned her a place of distinction among 20th century photographers. Bernhard was known primarily for her dramatically lit nude studies, which expressed her interest in abstract shape and form. Ruth Bernhard was born in Berlin in 1905. She followed her father to New York in 1927 after she completed two years at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. Bernhard began photographing the female nude in the early 1930s and eventually became acquainted with Berenice Abbott and her artistic circle. She also supported herself with commercial photographic assignments. In 1935 a chance meeting with the photographer Edward Weston on the beach in Santa Monica, California, altered the course of Bernhard’s life. He became her mentor, and she studied with him for years. Seeing his pictures for the first time, she said was a revelation.

In the 1940s Bernhard became part of Group f/64, joining Modernist West Coast photographers like Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, and Dorothea Lange. All took a purist approach to their subjects. Their work is characterized by photographic clarity and detailed precision. Bernhard photographed almost exclusively in the studio. She was known to take a single picture from one specific angle after setting up a composition meticulously, sometimes over days. “If I have chosen the female form in particular, it is because beauty has been debased and exploited in our sensual 20th century. To raise, to elevate, to endorse with timeless reverence the image of woman has been my mission.” She published several books of photographs, and her work is in collections at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London among many others.

Photography & Works