CORVALLIS, Ore. -The black-and-white photographs created by the renowned Edward Weston are considered classics. He was the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim, the first to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and was the subject of the museum’s largest-ever retrospective for a photographer.
Many of his finest and widely recognized images are of Charis Wilson, who was his model and then his lover, wife, and artistic collaborator beginning in the Great Depression.
A new documentary/drama about the famous relationship between Weston and Charis Wilson – his model and later his wife and artistic collaborator -- includes recent interviews with the now 92-year-old Wilson. “Eloquent Nude: The Love and Legacy of Edward Weston and Charis Wilson” is based on the book, “Through Another Lens” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998) by Wendy Madar, associate director of the Oregon State University Center for the Humanities.
The documentary premieres Thursday, March 8, 7 p.m. at Portland Art Museum's Grand Ballroom in the Mark Building, 1119 S.W. Park Ave. To accommodate the high demand for tickets, a second screening has been added that will take place in the Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 S.W. Park Ave. Tickets to the second screening, which will not include the panel discussion and reception, will be available day of show at the Whitsell Auditorium box office beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Written with Wilson, the book chronicles the meeting of the intellectually precocious 19-year-old and the 48-year-old photographer, and the adventurous 11 years they shared. Charis became not only one of the most celebrated subjects of Weston’s camera, but an artist in her own right, through her writings about Weston’s work and their experiences together.
Emmy award-winning filmmaker Ian McCluskey of NW Documentary Arts & Media developed the story for the big screen, including interviews with Wilson and others from the era. His documentary employs what he describes as the “risky” tactic of using actors to represent Weston and the young Charis (pronounced CARE-iss) Wilson. Sequences shot in grainy black and white recreate such significant scenes as Wilson rolling nude and loose-limbed down the white sand dunes of Oceano, Calif., the couple traveling in their 1936 Ford and camping with legendary photographer Ansel Adams in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
“I've known Charis since I was12,” says Madar. “She and my parents were friends, in a West Coast Bohemian circle centered on books and liberal politics. Beginning in 1995, Charis and I worked together for three years to produce a memoir about her years with Weston, in her voice. Charis is a fine writer, celebrated in particular for the 1940 book California and the West, which included Weston’s photos and documented their travels. But her age made it difficult to write the memoir herself.
“Her memory, however, remained -- and still is -- extraordinary. Even after their painful parting, Charis and Edward kept in affectionate touch until his death from Parkinson's Disease in 1958.”
Madar says she and Charis were skeptical when first contacted by McCluskey, because other filmmakers had tried and failed to bring the story to life. “He was very impressive, and since there seemed nothing to lose, we decided to go ahead. The result is vital, beautiful, and fully worthy of the subject.”
As lead advisor, Madar was involved from the earliest phase of discussion and filming through the entire two-year effort to produce Eloquent Nude. The Portland premier will include a discussion with the filmmaker, along with Madar, Portland Art Museum Curator of Photography Terry Toedtemeier, and OPB's Jessica Martin, followed by a reception in the Museum's Fields Ballroom with music by the gypsy jazz band Djangophiles. Health permitting, Charis will attend the screening and speak briefly.
Tickets are available on Northwest Film Center's website http://www.nwfilm.org.
The film is scheduled for screenings this year at festivals and major art museums around the country, and on Public Broadcasting Stations.
“It will be on OPB, but the amusing thing is that because of those lovely and famous nudes, it will have to be shown after 10 p.m.,” Madar says, “to protect the innocent.”