Ruth Bernhard (American, 1905–2006) was a Berlin-born American photographer. She studied at the Berlin Academy of Art from 1925 until 1927, before joining her father, designer and typographer Lucian Bernhard, in New York, NY. She took on commercial jobs, including an internship working under Ralph Steiner with the magazine The Delineator, in order to cover the expenses of acquiring her own photographic equipment. In 1935, she met Edward Weston, and became deeply inspired by his work. He became her mentor, under whom she studied for years. Becoming a part of the Modernist West Coast Photographers movement, she joined Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Wynn Bullock, and Dorothea Lange in the f/64 group.

She primarily photographed in her studio and in black and white, making compositions of still lifes and dramatically lit nude figures. Although she is most often recognized for her photographs of nude women, Bernhard’s main aspirations revolved around the formal discipline of creating abstract shapes and sculptural masses using composition, light, and shadow. One of her most famous pieces is Two Forms (1962), in which the bodies of two women are pressed against each other.

Bernhard lectured and taught master classes at universities throughout the United States, and published several books of her work. Bernhard’s photographs are held by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, CA; The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY; the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, TX; and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK; among others.

Timeline

1905
Born in Berlin, Germany
1927
Moved to New York City after studying at the Berlin Academy of Art
1934
Began photographing women in the nude, for which she would later become best known
1935
Met Edward Weston, who changed her perception of photography
1944
Met and became involved with artist and designer Evelyn Phimister, who she remained with for the next 10 years
1953
Moved to San Francisco and became a colleague of Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Minor White, and Wynn Bullock
1967
Met United States Air Force Colonel Price Rice; they remained together until his death in 1999
1981
Inducted into the National Women's Caucus for Art
1986
Photography West published an acclaimed monograph of her nudes entitled The Eternal Body
2006
Died in San Francisco, CA

Exhibitions

2009
G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle, USA
Preus Fotomuseum, Horten, Norway
Smith Anderson North, San Rafael, USA (solo)
2007
Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco, USA (solo)
2006
Fahey/Klein Gallery, San Francisco, USA
Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco, USA
Biennale Internazionale di Fotografia di Brescia, Brescia, Italy
Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco, USA (solo)
Photography Monika Mohr Galerie, Hamburg, Germany (solo)
2005
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, USA
Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco, USA
Museo de Arte Moderno, Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico
Halsted Gallery, Bloomfield Hills, USA
Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica, USA (solo)
G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle, USA (solo)
2004
Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, USA
Houston Center for Photography, Houston, USA
Panopticon Gallery, Waltham, USA
Fotografie Forum International, Frankfurt, Germany
Tokyo Photographic Culture Centre, Tokyo, Japan
John Stevenson Gallery, New York, USA (solo)
Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco, USA (solo)
2003
Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery, New York, USA
Barry Singer Gallery, Petaluma, USA
Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, USA
Scott Nichols Gallery, San Francisco, USA
Ruth Bernhard and Imogen Cunningham - The Art of the Nude, John Stevenson Gallery, New York, USA

Literature

1996
Gift of the Commonplace. Carmel Valley, Calif.: Woodrose Publications / Center for Photographic Art
1994
San Francisco: Chronicle. Essay by Margaretta K. Mitchell.
1986
The Eternal Body: A Collection of Fifty Nudes. Carmel, Calif.: Photography West Graphics
1979
Collecting Light: The Photographs of Ruth Bernhard. Edited by James Alinder. Carmel, Calif.: Friends of Photography
1957
Van, Melvin, and Ruth Bernhard. The Big Heart. San Francisco: Fearon