Robert Cumming, an artist best known for Conceptual photographs that were instrumental in a major transformation of camera work in the 1970s and early ’80s, died Dec. 16 in Desert Hot Springs, Calif. He was 78.
According to his life partner, Margaret Irwin-Brandon, Cumming died from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Cumming worked primarily in black-and-white, the established format employed to distinguish photography as serious art rather than an element of commercial mass media, which favored color. He often made large-format contact prints, emphasizing a commitment to directness and honesty over preciousness and darkroom manipulation. But he discarded the usual sober, documentary pose of Modernist art photography, preferring instead to throw a monkey wrench into the visual mix.
Typical was “Ansel Adams Raisin Bread” (1973), a diptych with a quirky reference to Adams, the reigning king of glamorous, ostensibly straightforward landscape photography. A store-bought loaf of packaged bread, some