He’s been gone 55 years, but the American West we see in our mind’s eye still owes much to Edward Weston‘s photographic eye. Yet because he worked in more or less every one of the known forms of his day — portrait, landscape, still-life, scenes in a variety of tones, and beyond — we tend to think we know Weston’s work when we’ve only seen a fraction of it. You can get a sense of the scope of his career by watching The Photographer above. Produced in 1948, the final year of Weston’s career, the half-hour documentary can thus examine nearly his entire body of work. The true Weston aficionado should note that it also examines his home and his cats. (The latter get into the former by way of a cat door made from an old lens board.)
If you have an interest in twentieth-century American photography, Weston’s name often comes up. But you may also recognize the name of the film’s director, Willard Van Dyke. A onetime apprentice of Weston’s, Van Dyke made the introduction between the master and Ansel Adams, thus forming a connection between two men who visually defined America. Along with fellow San Francisco photographer Imogen Cunningham, the three would form the Modernist Group f/64. Van Dyke made The Photographer under the banner of the United States Information Agency, and it has the feel of faintly propagandistic optimism you’d thus expect, but the film has much to show and say about Weston’s methods and the Californian natural world he so strikingly captured.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.