Ruth Bernhard [1905-2006] was a German-born American photographer renowned for her intimate and evocative black-and-white photographs of nudes, still lifes, and landscapes.
Her work, characterized by its exquisite use of light and its subtle exploration of form and texture, earned her critical acclaim and a place among the leading figures in 20th-century photography.
Bernhard’s passion for photography was ignited in the 1930s, and she quickly gained recognition for her sensitive portrayals of the female form. Her nudes, often devoid of conventional poses and adornments, exuded a sense of vulnerability and grace, capturing the essence of the human figure with a poetic eye. Bernhard’s still lifes, equally captivating, revealed her keen observation of the natural world, transforming everyday objects into objects of beauty and intrigue. Her landscapes, though less prolific, showcased her ability to capture the essence of place, infusing her images with a sense of tranquility and introspection.
Bernhard remained committed to her personal vision throughout her career, never succumbing to commercialism or popular trends. Her work continues to inspire and captivate, a testament to her enduring legacy as a master of her craft.
Read the full Biography below.
View her images and learn more at: Ruth Bernhard
Photography Quotes From Ruth Bernhard
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Ruth Bernhard was not only a gifted photographer but also a skilled dancer and acrobat.
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Ruth Bernhard was a passionate advocate for social justice and used her photography to promote understanding and empathy.
Books by Ruth Bernhard
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During the mid-20th century, when homosexuality was still widely stigmatized, Bernhard used her photography to challenge societal norms and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.
Biography of Ruth Bernhard
Early Life and Education
Ruth Bernhard was born in Berlin, Germany, on October 14, 1905. She was raised in a creative and intellectual environment; her father, Lucian Bernhard, was a well-known graphic designer, illustrator, and type designer. This artistic household profoundly influenced Ruth’s early life and future career.
Bernhard’s education began in Berlin, where she was exposed to various artistic influences. In the 1920s, she moved to the Bauhaus in Dessau, though she didn’t formally attend the school. The Bauhaus movement, with its emphasis on form and function and its blend of art, craft, and technology, left an indelible mark on her artistic sensibilities.
Journey to Photography
Initially, Bernhard pursued painting, but her artistic direction changed when she received a camera as a gift from her father in 1927. This marked the beginning of her lifelong passion for photography. She started working as a photographer in Berlin, honing her skills and developing her unique style.
In 1929, Bernhard moved to New York City, which would significantly shape her career. She started by working in commercial photography, capturing images for magazines and advertising. This period was crucial for developing her technical skills and understanding of composition and lighting.
Artistic Evolution and Themes
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Bernhard’s work evolved from commercial photography to a more artistic and expressive approach. Her most iconic photographs are her nudes, which showcase a deep understanding and appreciation of the human form. These images are celebrated for their sculptural quality, exquisite use of light, and the sense of emotion they evoke.
Bernhard’s approach to photography was meticulous and deliberate. She often spent hours preparing a single shot, considering every aspect of composition and lighting. This careful preparation was evident in the final images, characterized by a remarkable clarity and depth.
Influence of Edward Weston
In 1935, Bernhard moved to California, where she met Edward Weston, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Weston became a mentor and close friend, deeply influencing Bernhard’s work. His emphasis on form, texture, and the sheer beauty of simple subjects resonated with her and was reflected in her photographs.
Teaching and Legacy
Bernhard was also dedicated to teaching. She offered workshops and lectures, sharing her knowledge and passion for photography. Her teachings emphasized the importance of seeing beyond mere looking and the spiritual connection between the photographer and the subject.
In addition to her nudes, Bernhard was known for her still-life photography, where she brought an almost meditative focus to ordinary objects, transforming them into works of profound beauty and contemplation.
Recognition and Later Years
Ruth Bernhard’s work was exhibited in numerous galleries and museums throughout her career. She received many accolades, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center of Photography in 1989.
Her work is included in the collections of major museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Bernhard published several books that compiled her works, including “The Eternal Body” (1986), which is particularly noted for its celebration of the female form.
Bernhard continued photographing, teaching, and exhibiting her work well into her nineties. She remained a vibrant and influential figure in the world of photography until her passing.
Ruth Bernhard died on December 18, 2006, in San Francisco, California, at 101. Her legacy is that of a pioneering photographer who explored and celebrated the subtleties of light and form. Her work continues to inspire and influence photographers and artists, echoing her belief in the transformative power of seeing the world through the lens of a camera.