Ruth Bernhard Biography

Ruth Bernhard, a German-born American photographer, began her artistic career at the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1925. After two years of studying at the Berlin Academy of Arts, Bernhard moved to New York, New York to live with her graphic designer father, Lucian Bernhard. It was there she landed a job as a darkroom assistant to Ralph Steiner, head of the photography department for Delineator magazine. While her role as the darkroom assistant to Steiner was brief, she eventually found herself making her first camera equipment purchase shortly after, beginning her journey in freelance photography.

The 1930s brought Bernhard immense success as she defined and established her distinct photographic style. Bernhard's photos are primarily well-known for her black and white compositions of still lifes and dramatically lit nude female figures. In 1935, a chance meeting on the beach of Santa Monica, California with photographer Edward Weston changed the course of her life. After seeing his work, Bernhard was deeply moved and compelled by photography as a creative medium. Desiring to work alongside Edward Weston, Bernard picked up and moved to California after their encounter. Weston then became her mentor as she studied with him for years while continuing her freelance photography. In the 1940s, Bernhard became a part of Group f/64, alongside Modernist West Coast photographers like Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Wynn Bullock, Dorothea Lange, and Minor White. The group took a purist approach to their subjects, and their work is characterized by photographic clarity and detailed precision. 

With a career spanning more than seven decades, Bernhard's photos were almost exclusively shot in the studio. She also extended her skills to lecturing and teaching master classes at various universities throughout the United States. Bernhard's photos can be found exhibited in most major museums worldwide, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas among others.