Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ralph Steiner


These days I think the composers of music influence me more than any photographers or visual creators. I see something exciting or lovely and think to myself: 'If Papa Haydn or Wolfgang Amadeus or the red-headed Vivaldi were here with a camera, they'd snap a picture of what's in front of me.' So i take the picture for them.

Ralph Steiner

Ralph Steiner (February 8, 1899 – July 13, 1986) was an American photographer, pioneer documentarian and a key figure among avant-garde filmmakers in the 1930s.

''Typewriter keys'' 1921

Born in 1899 in Cleveland to a lower-class Czech family, Ralph Steiner studied chemical engineering at Dartmouth before starting his career in photography. In 1921 he began studying at the Clarence H. White School of Photography. One of his first jobs was to make illustrative plates for Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North and Steiner experimented in making his own avant-garde films, including H20 and Mechanical Principles.

"Ham and Eggs'' 1929

He continued his exploration with film and photography by attending the artists' colony in Yaddo, yet relied on advertising work for most of his income, submitting his work to periodicals such as The Ladies' Home Journal. In 1926 or 1927 he met Paul Strand in New York and became a founding member of the Film and Photo League. Steiner taught at the Harry Alan Potamkin Film School and was described by Samuel Brody as "the healthiest and most sincere artist in the 'avant-garde' of the bourgeois cinema and photo."


''The Village'' 1922

Agreeing with Leo Hurwitz's outlook on the aesthetics of documentary film, Steiner broke from the FPL to start Nykino. Believing it difficult to capture immediate events, especially with police intervention and time constraints, Steiner saw the limits of the documentary and wished to expand its potential. Following Strand and Hurwitz, he left Nykino to form Frontier Films. He was a cameraman for Pare Lorentz in addition to shooting films for Frontier, such as People of the Cumberland and The City. Steiner filming The City.

"American Rural Baroque'' 1929

After The City, Steiner broke from Van Dyke and Frontier Films and went to Hollywood where he was a writer/executive for four years. He then returned to commercial photography and film making. His other jobs included picture editor for PM magazine and photographic assignments for Fortune. Steiner moved to Vermont in 1963, spending the rest of his twenty three years photographing images of the coast.

"Mechanical Principles" 1930

“Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity: Be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at – just please yourself.''

"Eight O'clock Coffee" 1935

Close up we see pistons move up and down or side to side. Pendulums sway, the small parts of machinery move. Gears drive larger wheels. Gears within gears spin. Shafts turn some mechanism that is out of sight. Screws revolve and move other gears; a bit rotates. More subtle mechanisms move other mechanical parts for unknown purposes. Weights rise and fall. The movements, underscored by sound, are rhythmic. Circles, squares, rods, and teeth are in constant and sometimes asymmetrical motion. These human-made mechanical bits seem benign and reassuring.

"At the Beach'' 1921

"Lollipop" 1922

"Switches" 1929

"Brewery" 1930

"Always Camel" 1922

"Untitled" 1914

"H2O" 1929

H2O is about water in all forms. Waterfalls, sea, rain, rivers, gushing out of pipes. You’d think that watching just water for 12 minutes would be boring, but I found this captivating, particularly the section of the film that seemed to focus on reflections. The music was also excellent and seemed to capture the mood of the different types of water on the screen.

"Untitled (Nude with mannequin)" 1935

"Curves Ahead" 1950

"After Rehearsal" 1936

"Man on Bicycle" 1920

"The Bridge" 1929

"Mozart (Sapling in Snow)" 1977

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The Cloud Series" 1983

"The City" 1939

Visionary documentary that contrasts the conditions of life in small towns and in the industrialized cities, starting with a brief portrait of pre-industrial United States, then moving into the modern chaotic, industrial and commercial city to reflect on the effects of this environment on family life and the raising of children, and finally proposing a return to a simpler life, in an idyllic "new city" in Maryland, constructed as a New Deal project, to promote proper upbringing of children, as well as a stable family life.''I say to young photographers, 'What in God's name are you doing, taking a picture of a tree or a mountain? That's crazy!

"The Cloud Series" 1983

What you should do is take a person by the hand and show him the tree or the mountain itself. Why show him a stupid picture? It's flat and it's tiny compared to the mountain. The mountain is magnificent and has power . . .' They look at me as if I'm nuts. They don't know what to say back to me. So I go on to say that the reason you show someone a photograph is because a photograph is part of a human being--you--and as people we're more interested in human beings than we are in mountains. By showing a picture, you're showing an x-ray of your heart. The very silent, marvelous American painter, Edward Hopper, put it very simply. He said, 'The work's the man. You can't get something out of nothing.''

"The Cloud Series" 1983

''If I were to teach, I wouldn't teach a course in photography. I'd teach a course called 'What Matters.''