Weston book leads to documentary film

Center for the Humanities Newsletter Photo
Wendy Madar

Although photographer Edward Weston died of Parkinson’s disease in 1958, his wife Charis Wilson, 91, is alive and sharp enough to crack jokes in a film being made about her life with Weston from 1935 to 1946.

The documentary is based on the book Through Another Lens (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998) by Wendy Madar, associate director of the Center. Written with Wilson, in her voice, the book chronicles a marriage and working relationrship—with Wilson as writer and model—that is widely viewed as one of the most important arts partnerships of the 20th century.

The film, by NW Documentary Arts & Media, is directed by Ian McClusky, whose most recent film Sun Gu Ja: A Century of Korean Pioneers has won numerous awards, including the NW Regional Emmy for Best Historical Documentary.

In 1937, Weston was awarded the first ever Guggenheim for a photographer, an award that was renewed the following year. The two embarked on a tour around California, which resulted in the book California and the West, with photographs by Weston and text by Wilson. Along the way, they were married.

During the next decade, as Wilson continued to be a major camera subject, they built a small house on the coast south of Carmel, presented photography workshops in Yosemite with Ansel Adams, and traveled across the country on a grant to make pictures for a deluxe edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Neither knew that Weston was ill with Parkinson’s disease, but the symptoms contributed to other troubles that caused them to separate in 1946.

Interviews with Wilson and a few others from the era are a major part of the film but McCluskey also has employed what he describes as the “risky” tactic of using actors to represent the young Charis (pronounced Kair-iss) Wilson as well as Weston even though the film is a documentary These sequences were shot in grainy black and white, with no dialogue and no direct views of the faces. They recreated such famous scenes as Wilson rolling nude and loose-limbed down the white sand dunes of Oceano, California, and Weston and Wilson traveling in their 1936 Ford and camping in the desert.

As an advisor on the project, Madar traveled to California last March to spend a week with the camera crew during the first phase of filming, and since then has worked closely with the director. The film is scheduled for release in August.

Barrett Rudich portrays photographer Edward Weston and Christine Bernsten acts the role of Weston's wife, model an dpartner Charis Wilson in this still from the documentary film based on Through Another Lens. Photo by Carson Michel, 2005
The film crew prepares to interview Charis Wilson, 90, in the house she and photographer Edward Weston buld near Carmel, California. Also shown are Wilson's daughter, Rachel Harris, director Ian McClusky, audio engineer Jason Edwards, and camerman Brett Wood. Photo by Wendy Madar, 2005.