Art / Commentary / criticism / Imogen Cunningham / Photography / poetry / reading / San Francisco Museum of Modern Art / Writing

Body Talk: Poetic Space in Imogen Cunningham’s Triangles, 1928

A friend once told me there are three sides to every story.


If three is a number of unity then why are the nocturnal arcs of her body far more connective to me than angles? Her body receives light with subtle gradations yet provides an unending Rothko depth. I too am soft, but not like this; I complete a rectangular frame broadly.


Source: Imogen Cunningham, Triangles, 1928; printed later.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


A blank sheet of paper. What is space? Does it want to be filled? What do you call the desire between lines and figures? I think she is holding her knees close, or at least wrapped one hand under thigh to prop up the leg. I never found a use for graphing integers, but at least now I recognize the space in each box and that numbers, whether positive or negative, fill a lapse in time not unlike the relationship between light and aperture. Fstop.


The gaps between words, lines, stanzas. Each gap is unknown origin, a blank production engaging the eye, signaling movement, creating exposure.


Words require elbow room. The body requires latitude. The rectangular sides of the frame are consumed by her limbs and the backside we cannot see. The interior space is imperfect with leg meeting arm to create an angle, and the remaining area consists of undefined shape. If you reach into the undefined shape will you find infinity? “Behind dark curtains, snow seems to be whiter. Indeed, everything comes alive when contradictions accumulate” (Bachelard 60).








If we draw back the curtains and see the snow is whiter, is the depth of vision any different if the snow were black?


My body is a temple, she says.

How cliché, I think.

But a temple is a dwelling and live inside our bodies. The body is a place, cluttered with abbreviations, dead languages, unread books; it is a guide to what we are. The body is a story.


When I look at Cunningham’s photograph I think many things at once and sometimes I cannot sort them out in neat little piles marked with notes. But this is how I come to recognize the undefined shape is the triangle. What we see in connected lines and arcs is a circular triangle (sort of). And the interior is perfect. Her body lines are perfect. Cunningham’s composition is the heart of my jealousy climbing each stair at a rapid pace until I reach the cupola and stand still at the center. Here, I am surrounded by incoming light, and space on the other side of each glass pane. But I cannot raise the windows to feel infinity. I can only look.


I remove my clothes, sit on the floor. I imitate, find the connection between limbs and arcs, trace the shape I want with my other hand. Pretend in black and white, that I am perfect too.

Work Cited

Bachelard, Gaston. “House and Universe.” The Poetics of Space, trans. by Maria Jolas. NY: Penguin, 1964. Print.

“triangle, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2017. Web. 5 April 2017.

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