The Photographer Reveals the Philosophy, Techniques & Artistry of Edward Weston (1948)

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.

You will find The Pho­tog­ra­ph­er list­ed in our col­lec­tion of Free Doc­u­men­taries Online, part of our col­lec­tion 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Cre­ative Process of Ansel Adams Revealed in 1958 Doc­u­men­tary

Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son and the Deci­sive Moment

Errol Mor­ris: Two Essen­tial Truths About Pho­tog­ra­phy

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.

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