Michael Cunningham was born in Landover, Maryland and fell in love with photography at the age of twelve. He moved to North Carolina after graduating high school and became a college student and photographer. A commercial photographer for over sixteen years, his clients have included some of world’s largest corporations: Coca-Cola, RJR Tobacco, Sara Lee, Wachovia Bank, among others.
As a commercial photographer, Cunningham usually works in color, his work reflecting his keen ability to interpret the specific and varied needs of his clients. Regarding his personal projects, Cunningham chooses to work in black and white; this allows him to express what is in his soul. Black and white photography is very personal, he says and reaches deep inside the viewer, making them study the photograph for what it represents outside of pretty colors.
From 1997-99, Cunningham served as an instructor for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Arts Council's ARTIVA Program, an artist apprenticeship that allows high school students to work hand-in-hand with various artists for eight weeks during the summer. This allowed Cunningham to give back to others what he started learning at an early age. He also taught photography at Winston-Salem State University in Winston Salem, NC from 2001-02.
In 1998, Cunningham produced a traveling black and white photography exhibition, CROWNS: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats. The Smithsonian's Anacostia Museum featured two of the images from CROWNS in its exhibition entitled, Locating the Spirit in African-American Art.
In the fall of 2000, Doubleday published a coffee table book on the CROWNS series co-authored by journalist Craig Marberry. The book has received enormous national media attention including coverage in The New York Times, USA Today, and The CBS News Sunday Morning Show. Now in its seventh printing, CROWNS has sold over 110,000 copies. Additionally, a calendar on the project was released in 2002 and 2003 by Workman Publishing. Further, a theatrical production of CROWNS has played to sold out audiences across the U.S. and Canada, and is currently still on tour.
Since the release of CROWNS, Cunningham has made dozens of presentations at museum workshops, sorority luncheons, fund-raising banquets, and other similar venues around the country, delighting sold out audiences in Dallas, TX; Richmond, VA; Toledo, OH; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Wichita, KA; Houston, TX; Louisville, KY; New York, NY; Omaha, NE; Detroit, MI; and Miami, FL. Cunningham has also lectured at the Studio Museum in Harlem; California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA; Rogers Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island; The Virginia Festival of the Book; The American Textile Museum in Lowell, MA; and the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs.
In fall 2003, Doubleday released his second book with co-author Craig Marberry entitled, Spirit of Harlem: Portraits from America's Most Exciting Neighborhood.
Michael's third book project Queens: Portraits of Black Women and Their Fabulous Hair, a photo essay book with journalist George Alexander, takes a look at the unique relationship of Black women and their hair. Photographed on location in Accra, Ghana, London, England and up and down the east coast of the USA . It was released by Doubleday on November 1, 2005.
Michael's latest photo essay book, JEWELS, a collaboration with best selling author, Connie Briscoe, features fifty phenomenal women over fifty like Ruby Dee, Eleanor Holmes Norton, S. Epatha Merkerson and Marian Wright Edelman. It was released April 11th 2007 by Time Warner/ Bulfinch Press.
In addition, Cunningham is the Executive Director of Urban Shutterbugs, a nonprofit organization aimed at teaching the fine art of black and white photography to inner-city youth. Cunningham is a member of American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and a past board member of the Washington, DC chapter. He attended Winston-Salem State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.