Ralph Steiner


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Photographer and filmmaker. His crisp, witty, and formally inventive approach to photography complemented the mechanical, architectural, and mass-produced subjects he particularly favored. Born in Cleveland, he graduated in 1921 from Dartmouth College. Before working as an advertising and magazine photographer, he studied for a year at Clarence White's New York photography school, where he sharpened his eye for design. In its unexpected angle of view, extreme close-up treatment, and insistent, rhythmic patterning, “Typewriter Keys” of 1921–22 anticipates that decade's subsequent fascination with the expressive possibilities of objectivity. His work of the later 1920s and 1930s often parallels the spirit of Charles Sheeler's machine-oriented precisionist work. “Ford Model T” (c. 1929) displays a bold, clean composition found in the fender area over a front wheel. For “Portrait of Louis Lozowick” (1930), he posed his artist-friend before a pattern of cogged wheels, part of a large machine of undisclosed function. The bold, abstract composition testifies to the photographer's (and the sitter's) attraction to the romance of technology. Steiner also appreciated the eloquence of the mundane, from urban billboards to rural porches. His work in this vein parallels, and sometimes prefigures, Walker Evans's imagery. Steiner began making documentary films in the late 1920s. He worked in the mid-1930s with Paul Strand, Willard Van Dyke, and others on the Pare Lorentz documentaries, The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1937), and with Van Dyke to make The City for the 1939 World's Fair in New York. In the late 1940s he worked in Hollywood, mostly on short subjects. Steiner published A Point of View (1978) and In Pursuit of Clouds: Images and Metaphors (1985). He died in a hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire, not far from his final home in Thetford Hill, Vermont.

Subjects: Art.

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