Anne W. Brigman, a late nineteenth-century pictorialist photographer, was born in Hawaii but spent most of her life in California. She used natural images combined with the female figure to create mysteriously poetic images. The Dying Cedar [SAAM 1994.91.33] can be understood as a commentary on the grandeur and universality of nature—the oneness of woman and creation. More recently, the photograph has been seen as a statement of feminist principles, expressing a yearning for some sort of unattainable freedom. Brigman used cedar trees almost exclusively in her female nude images, but the reference to Daphne (the nymph pursued by Apollo who was saved by being transformed into a laurel tree) is unmistakable. Brigman was one of the first women to photograph nudes in a wilderness landscape. Her images deliberately resemble charcoal drawings, as she sought to capture the spirit of her subject rather than a faithful reproduction.National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)
Anne W. Brigman (born Anne Wardrope Nott and married in 1894 to Martin Brigman, a San Francisco sea captain) was known for her photographs of female nudes in landscape settings. Enjoying early success as a Pictorialist, she was a member of the Camera Club of San Francisco and the Photo-Secession group. The January 1909 issue of Camera Work published five of Brigman's photographs, including The Dying Cedar, accompanied by this statement: "Mrs. Annie W. Brigman, of Oakland, California, has during the past few years gained a prominent position amongst American camera workers." Because critics unfamiliar with California and the Sierra Nevada sometimes accused Brigham of staging photographs in her studio, the editors added: "These negatives are not produced in a studio 'fitted with papier-mache trees and painted backgrounds,' but have been taken in the open, in the heart of the wilds of California."
Nature was paramount to Brigman's life and work. Often using herself or friends as models for her photographs of nudes she usually juxtaposed the figures with trees or rocks, reflecting her celebration of woman and nature as parallel sources of energy. Brigam also wrote expressive poetry; and in 1929 she published a book of poems titled Songs of a Pagan. These lines from the poem "Cry" describe her photograph of The Dying Cedar.
Beloved Earth...I am weary of your mighty clasp.
Life Crowds...I am exhausted with the stern decree
Of your relentless, aging binding, bending grasp...
Merry A. Foresta American Photographs: The First Century (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996)