Ruth Bernhard


Ruth Bernhard turns 100 years old on October 14, 2005

Click here to SEE WIPI MEMBER special tribute to celebrate Ruth, a remarkable person, renown photographer, teacher and inspirational women who's spirit, kindness and humor has brought joy and memorable images to the world of photography. WIPI named Ruth their Distinguished Photographers Awardee in 1984.

Trees Walking, 1972 Santa Rosa, CA, gelatin silver print,
printed 2002, 11.25" H x 10.25" W, mounted 16x20"
signed and hand signed Santa Rosa, 1972 on back mat
(sold at WIPI / photo la Auction 2003)

(1905 - ) About the Photographer: Ruth Bernhard was born in Berlin in 1905. In 1927, after two years at the Berlin Academy of Art, Ruth moved to New York where she began to seriously pursue a career in photography. Eight years later she met Edward Weston in California and was deeply moved by his work. He revealed to her the profound creative potential of photography and its artistic implications. Desiring to work with him, she moved to to the West Coast shortly thereafter.

In 1953, she moved to San Francisco and became a colleague of Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Minor White and Wynn Bullock. She has lectured and conducted master classes throughout the United States through her 95th birthday.

Ruth Bernhard ...pages

It was at the age of 24 that Ruth first struck at the chord of professional photography. In 1929 she took a job as a darkroom assistant for the New York magazine The Delineator, working under the supervision of Ralph Steiner.

But she wasn't terribly excited about the position and soon left the magazine's employ. With her severance pay she bought herself an 8 x 10 viewfinder camera and with it began taking portraits of her father's friends - a circle of designers and artisans. From this point she sustained herself as a freelance photographer while, as well, exploring her own interest in still life's, fashion, architecture, advertising, etc.

In 1935 Ruth met Edward Weston on a beach in Santa Monica, California. It was a meeting that would transform and elevate her entire perception of photography. "I was unprepared for the experience of seeing his pictures for the first time. It was overwhelming. It was lightning in the darkness ... here before me was indisputable evidence of what I had thought possible - an intensely vital artist whose medium was photography." The mere realization that photography could be Art, in its truest sense, was enlightening. Soon thereafter, Ruth moved to the West Coast to study with Edward Weston in Carmel.

Making a living in Carmel proved to be difficult and so she packed her bags for Hollywood where she opened her own studio. Much of her clientele were celebrities who brought in their children to have their portraits taken—many of them posing with their beloved dolls or pets. Then in 1953, she made the move to San Francisco, where she has made her home for the last 47 years.

While making a living as a commercial photographer, Ruth still found the time to devote energy to her personal, creative outlets. Her nude images of women are some of the most highly regarded within the breadth of her portfolio. Her visions of the female form are classical derivates that maintain a vernacular sensuality. Yet it has been even simpler subjects that have always charmed her heart—from children's dolls to found shells on the beach shore. Ruth Bernhard's photographs of these ever common objects exudes a feeling of sentimentality and personal clause.

books Bernhard, Ruth.
Edited by James Alinder.
Collecting Light: The Photographs of Ruth Bernhard
Carmel, CA: Friends of Photography, 1979

Bernhard, Ruth. Gift of the Commonplace
Carmel Valley, CA: Woodrose Publications / Center for Photographic Art, 1996

Bernhard, Ruth. Essay by Margaretta K. Mitchell
The Eternal Body:
A Collection of Fifty Nudes. Carmel, CA:
Photography West Graphics, 1986. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1994







50 Black and White Laser Fultone Reproductions
ISBN: 0-8118-0801-7 First Edition sold out.
New paperback edition is available

Ruth Bernhard: The Eternal Body was the first collection of Bernhard's forty year study of the nude to be presented in a single, elegantly bound monograph. by Ruth Bernhard (Photographer), Margaretta K. Mitchell

The photographs selected, many of which have never been exhibited, unveil the true range of her feminine genius. Bernhard's intense, studied camera work had produced images of he human form that clearly transcend the boundaries between the spirit and the flash. This collection expresses her lifelong passion to understand the effects of light on the body and to reveal it in its purest form.

Each illustrious photograph contains a classic perfection, giving it a sense of the eternal and making it a timeless masterpiece of the human figure. Complete with an insightful overview of Ruth Bernhard's artistry and working life, this landmark volume offers the viewer a stunning array of fifty master prints by one of the most significant artists of our time, revealing a unique and personal vision of the human body that is as breathtaking as it is profound. 



Quotes by Ruth Bernhard

"My quest, through the magic of light and shadow, is to isolate, to simplify and to give emphasis to form with the greatest clarity. To indicate the ideal proportion, to reveal sculptural mass and the dominating spirit is my goal." Ruth Bernhard

"Light is my inspiration, my paint and brush. It is as vital as the model herself. Profoundly significant, it caresses the essential superlative curves and lines. Light I acknowledge as the energy upon which all life on this planet depends". Ruth Bernhard

"For me, the creation of a photograph is experienced as a heightened emotional response, most akin to poetry and music, each image the culmination of a compelling impulse I cannot deny. Whether working with a human figure or a still life, I am deeply aware of my spiritual connection with it. In my life, as in my work, I am motivated by a great yearning for balance and harmony beyond the realm of human experience, reaching for the essence of oneness with the Universe." Ruth Bernhard
Ruth Bernhard: Between Art and Life.
by Margaretta K. Mitchell
San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2000.
Page 135, excerpt: CHRISTINE BURGOYNE, student, 1998 ON RUTH: I registered a year before April 1998 for the Ruth Bernhard Class in Coupeville, to assure a seat in the class with this major photographic legend! I attended to be in the presence of an icon. During the workshop, I felt slighted by some of Ruth’s criticism of what I was doing. How small of me! We can all learn and grow if we just open up and do it! I thought I had been listening to what Ruth had to say, but when my assignment was criticized, I realized I had not really listened, I had not heard her intention. Alexander Pope said, "Some people never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon." Step away from your ego and open up to the possibilities! Thank you, Ruth!

The story behind the Portrait of Ruth Bernhard (age 94), April 1998
Ruth Bernhard has been a major contributor and influence in the national photographic community but was most appreciated while teaching over the last 8 years at Coupeville Arts Center on Whidbey Island in Washington State.


Having this significant photographic icon so close at hand, I had to enroll in the last class she would teach at the Arts Center. Knowing that Ruth limited her class size, I called a year in advance, to assure getting into this intimate class of only 13. The waiting list ran off the page as the time drew nearer though!

The two-day weekend workshop experience was magically eye opening for all of us. Ruth was a huge life force that galvanized all she met to take the time to look, feel, breathe and to trust their gut feelings. She inspired us all to just say "yes" to life!

Ruth was exhausted from sharing her life work, stories and inspiration with our worshipful group. Since it was pouring on this dreary NW spring day and I was the new owner of a 928 Porsche, I was asked to drive Ruth a short distance to the Compass Rose Bed & Breakfast. Wearing her special Picasso art jacket, she smiled with delight when I opened the door for her.
As we approached the lodging, I timidly asked if I could take her picture. She replied, "yes, but make it snappy." I stopped the car, grabbed my camera, leaned over the car hood and as I got into position, she leaned forward, crossed her hands under her chin and looked through the rain-drenched windshield, right into my eyes, as if she knew what the results would be. Inspired by Ruth's 1970 image Apple Tree, I clicked three shots one with focus on the drops, on her and on then on the drops again. With tears in my eyes, I thanked her for the opportunity and she thanked me right back. Using my fresh learning of trusting my gut instinct, I made a haunting image that was anxiously sent to Ruth. As we talked on the phone later, she said she loved the piece! This image of Ruth Bernhard is a pivotal piece in my continuing series of Artists in Their Work. by Christine Burgoyne

Ruth Bernhard: "Life gave me presents" By Euan Kerr Minnesota Public Radio September 3, 2002
excerpts from Radio show, click website link for full story.

When people are asked to name the great photographers of the 20th century, Ruth Bernhard is unlikely to come up immediately. However she studied and worked with some of the greats: including Ansel Adams. Now 96, Ruth Bernhard's work encompasses 70 years of American photography. She is particularly recognized for her studies of the female figure. Ansel Adams called her the greatest photographer of the nude.
Excerpts from Minnesota Public Radio interview with Ted Hartwell,

Ted Hartwell delights in telling the story of his visit to Ruth Bernhard's home in San Francisco. He's the photography curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). He was in her kitchen when a tiny portrait caught his eye. Stuck on the fridge door, it was a younger Ruth, with her hand up to her cheek. "Just a small print," he says. "Maybe 2 and a half inches square, signed by the great Edward Weston. On her refrigerator! Amazing! Amazing! It's worth a fortune!" The whole Ruth Bernhard story seems studded with tiny treasures, and happy opportunities

....."I always said 'yes' to everything." There are pictures from that time in the MIA show. There is a formal portrait of an aspiring actress taken in 1929. There is a picture of three kids from Harlem photographed in the early 1930s. Their faces are bursting with excitement at having their picture taken. It was another quirk of fate in 1934 that led her first nude study. She was doing pictures of huge steel bowls for an industrial designer. There were a lot lying round her studio. "I guess they were for hotels, maybe for hotel kitchens or something like that," she says. "So I had a friend who was a dancer and when I photographed those bowls she appeared on the horizon and I said, 'Why don't you get in it?' So it as all very unexpected and lots of fun." Bernhard called the image Embryo. The pale figure of the model is crouched in the bowl against a shadowy background.

The MIA's Ted Hartwell says, like many Bernhard compositions, it can be understood on many levels. "You know we can read it literally as a figure in a bowl, a big huge salad bowl or something." Hartwell says perhaps it's also a recognition of the birth of Bernhard's new artistic direction. It's a very simple picture, apparently just a moment in time. But it's carefully posed. Everything exactly in it place. "I am very deliberate," Bernhard says. "When I create a pose and there is something about it I don't like I say 'Let's change it.' So it isn't that I have a lot of pictures to choose from. I am very stingy with film, maybe?" she laughs..... 

"I was always interested in the shapes. The sexy part never occurred to me." There are dozens of Ruth Bernard's images in the MIA (Minneapolis Institute of Arts ) gallery, the earliest from the late 1920s, all the way through to when she stopped making pictures in the 1970s.

Almost all of them were specially printed for the show. This creates a strange time warp effect. There are pictures hanging side by side, created decades apart, but sharing a remarkable similarity. ...

Ted Hartwell puts it down to the strength of Bernhard's artistic vision. He says the work stands out today even in a world awash in images exploiting the human form. "I'd like to believe that Ruth's work serves as a kind of corrective to the kind of flood of banal and quite common imagery that we are beset with," he says.
... "I allowed life to give me presents," she says. "And everything just sort of happened the way it was supposed to happen. I did not pursue anything. It more or less pursued me." Ruth Bernard

Photo of Ruth and Margerita by Ted Hartwell, Curator of Photography at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, recent exhibition on Bernhard at the MIA, August through October 2002

Images listed starting from top left 1)Early Nude 1934,  2)Straws 1937,  3)Wet Silk 1938,  4)Folding 1962,  5)Classic Torso 1952,  6)Ruth Bernhard, Between Art & Life Book Cover/Back & Book Design by Lori Barra and Andrew Faulkner, TonBo Designs,  7)Portrait of Ruth by Christine Burgyone 1998,  8)Leaf 1976,  9 )Doorknob  1976, 10)Tea Pot 1976,  11)Ruth and Margerita by Ted Hartwell, 2002,  12)Perspective II, 1967
books: See
Gift of the Commonplace (Lux (Carmel, Calif.), 4.) by Ruth Bernhard
Paperback * Publisher: Center for Photographic Art; ; (May 1996) * ISBN: 0963039350

Ruth Bernhard: The Eternal Body: A Collection of Fifty Nudes by Ruth Bernhard (Photographer), Margaretta K. Mitchell
Hardcover: 1 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 11.79 x 0.81 x 12.28 * Publisher: Chronicle Books; ; Reprint edition (November 1994) * ISBN: 0811808262

Ruth Bernhard - Between Art and Life by Ruth Bernhard, Margaretta K. Mitchell

Hardcover: 172 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.99 x 9.93 x 10.07 * Publisher: Chronicle Books; ; (October 1, 2000) * ISBN: 0811821919

Information about gallery representation can be found through

Perspective II

RUTH BERNHARD  (1925 - DEC. 18, 2006)
A beautiful, inspirational women and photographer
WIPI Tribute           Wikipedia Encyclopedia       WIPI 100 B' day Oct. 2005

"Light is my inspiration, my paint and brush. It is as vital as the model herself. Profoundly significant, it caresses the essential superlative curves and lines. Light I acknowledge as the energy upon which all life on this planet depends".... Ruth Bernhard

WIPI thanks Ruth for her kind donations to our auctions 2003 and 2004 to help support the efforts of Women In Photography International.  
Article & presentation produced by Jean Ferro

© copyright 2003 Women In Photography International

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