Exploding Bud (Billbergia)

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883–1976)


Image: 31.1 x 20.9 cm (12 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.) Sheet: 35.4 x 27.7 cm (13 15/16 x 10 7/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Photograph, gelatin silver print

Not On View


Americas, Photography



(Vintage photographic print)

Imogen Cunningham, who was a leading West Coast Pictorialist in her early career, created a series of plant studies during the 1920s that were landmarks in the development of a modernist, sharp-focus aesthetic in photography.
Her Exploding Bud (Billbergia) exemplifies the technique she used for her plant studies, making close-up details even more abstract through dramatic contrasts in lighting. Here, the highlighted bud seems to emerge as we watch, its intense energy bursting through the velvety blackness of the surrounding shadows. A metaphor for the reproductive force of nature, the bud nonetheless documents aspects of its species with the sharp-focus clarity of the best scientific illustration.


Signed in pencil: Imogen Cunningham. l.l. in pencil: "Printed in the 1920's"; l.c. in pencil: "Exploding Bud". On verso, stamped in ink: Imogen Cunningham, 1331 Green Street, San Francisco 9.


The Witkin Gallery, New York; purchased June 1973.

Credit Line

Polaroid Foundation Purchase Fund


© 1925/2011 The Imogen Cunningham Trust. www.imogencunningham.com.