‘The Photographer’: The Life and Work of Edward Weston, 1948

March 24, 1886 – January 1, 1958

“Anything that excites me for any reason, I will photograph; not searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual.”

Edward Henry Weston is known as one of the masters and greatest influential American photographers of the 20th century.

This detailed 26 minute documentary on the legendary photographer reveals the life and work of Weston who created pioneering photographs. The 1948 documentary, entitled “The Photographer,” was produced by American filmmaker Willard Van Dyke, an apprentice of Weston’s, who before switching to cinematography was also regarded as being a very notable photographer in his own right as well as a founding member to the f/64 group.

Over the course of an extensive forty-year career Weston photographed an increasingly expansive set of subjects, including landscapes, still lifes, nudes, portraits, genre scenes and even whimsical parodies. It is said that he developed a “quintessentially American, and specially Californian, approach to modern photography” because of his focus on the people and places of the American West. In 1937 Weston became the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship for his experimental work in 1936. From then on for over the next two years he produced a staggering amount of work, nearly 1,400 negatives using his 8 × 10 view camera.

“He began photographing at the age of sixteen after receiving a Bull’s Eye #2 camera from his father. Weston’s first photographs captured the parks of Chicago and his aunt’s farm. In 1906, following the publication of his first photograph in Camera and Darkroom, Weston moved to California. After working briefly as a surveyor for San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, he began working as an itinerant photographer. He peddled his wares door to door photographing children, pets and funerals. Realizing the need for formal training, in 1908 Weston returned east and attended the Illinois College of Photography in Effingham, Illinois. He completed the 12-month course in six months and returned to California. In Los Angeles, he was employed as a retoucher at the George Steckel Portrait Studio. In 1909, Weston moved on to the Louis A. Mojoiner Portrait Studio as a photographer and demonstrated outstanding abilities with lighting and posing.)” (Edward Weston Bio)

Working with soft-focus, pictorial style became Weston’s signature, winning him many salons and professional awards, as well as gaining an international reputation for his high key portraits and modern dance studies. In 1912, Weston met photographer Margrethe Mather in his Tropico studio who pushed him to strive for more. Mather became his studio assistant and most frequent model for the next decade. He would later call her, “the first important woman in my life.” By 1915 Weston began keeping journals that came to be known as his “Daybooks.” These diaries chronicled his life and photographic development right into the 1930’s.

In 1922 Weston visited the ARMCO Steel Plant in Middletown, Ohio. The photographs that he took there marked a turning point in Weston’s career, where during this period, Weston renounced his Pictorialism style with a new emphasis on abstract form and sharper resolution of detail. The industrial photographs were true straight images: unpretentious, and true to reality. Weston later wrote, “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.” 

‘The Photographer’ was made soon after that Weston had to deal with two life changing experiences – he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and he had separated from Charis Wilson who was with out a doubt the love of his life. In the film we see a fragile Weston who had lost the legendary energy that made him such a charismatic figure.Sadly shortly after the filming of the documentary he could no longer use his large format camera and he made his very last photograph the year the film was released.

‘The Photographer’ is a rare and important record of this iconic photographer, that gives us a wonderful glimpse into the life and meticulous work of Weston, revealing to us his thoughts, attention to minute detail and how he came to produce some of the most memorable photographs of the 20th century.

Information: Edward Weston