Note: Unless stated otherwise, all photographs and archival materials illustrated in this post are currently owned, or were owned in the past, by Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc. All photographs by Edward Weston © Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona.
In 1956, photographer, author and documentary filmmaker Louis Clyde Stoumen completed The Naked Eye: The Story of the Art and Fun of Photography, an ambitious, full-length cinematic history of photography stretching from its earliest stirrings with the camera obscura through the mid-20th century. This impressive tribute touched upon the contributions of such luminaries as Louis-Jacques Daguerre, Matthew Brady, Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstadt, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Weegee as well as the influences of George Eastman and Life magazine. However, it is Edward Weston who served as the centerpiece of The Naked Eye—his life and accomplishments explored in an extensive concluding chapter that captured the attention of critics and audiences and earned the film its accolades.
Stoumen first encountered Weston’s work at Weston’s Museum of Modern Art retrospective in 1946. The two met one year later when Stoumen visited Edward at his Carmel home. Stoumen’s recollection of this meeting, ensuing friendship and professional collaboration is documented in the 1981 exhibition catalogue, Ordinary Miracles: The Photography of Lou Stoumen:
I had first seen Weston’s work in the 1946 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art where I went as often as I could… Back in Los Angeles, Edward’s oldest son Chandler was my friend. I asked if he’d set up a meeting with his father, and one day in 1947 I found myself, portfolio in hand, at the door of Edward Weston’s wooden cabin in the Carmel highlands. He lived most simply, and worked with simplicity. That impressed me. I visited often after that and we corresponded. He was very encouraging about my work, which was so different from his, and at my request he would always show me 20 or 30 of his own prints, himself placing them one by one on an easel under his studio skylight. My then wife and I named our daughter Tina after Edward’s great love, Tina Modotti. In 1956, with the help of Brett Weston and Dody Weston, I made what is probably (with Willard Van Dyke’s The Photographer) the definitive film about EW and his life’s work, The Naked Eye.
The Naked Eye achieved great success, winning a host of prestigious awards and garnering acclaim for the technical innovations Stoumen employed to bring this panoply of still-photographs to life. The Naked Eye proved transformational in another way as well, becoming a cause célèbre for its effective challenge to the Hollywood Production Code’s rules on nudity.
“More Naked Than Eyes in ‘Naked Eye’” declared the San Francisco Chronicle on 27 October 1956. This attention-grabbing title to a pared down, retitled and uncredited version of Aline Mosby’s syndicated report on The Naked Eye was far from hyperbole. In fact, the nakedness in Louis Clyde Stoumen’s critically acclaimed film was ground-breaking. It marked the first time censors at the Production Code Administration (PCA) approved full nudity (in the form of Weston nudes!) in a documentary on the basis of artistic value—a validation directly attributable to Stoumen’s diligent defense of his work’s legitimacy coupled with the indisputable artistry of Edward Weston’s photographs. A 1956 press release from Stoumen’s company, Camera Eye Pictures, explained:
THE AFFAIR OF THE CODE SEAL / Total female nudity appears in the picture, particularly Edward Weston’s brilliantly sun-lit closeup series of nudes on California sand dunes. / ‘The Naked Eye’ was for this reason refused a seal of approval by the Hollywood Production Code. However, after personal appeal by producer Stoumen to Geoffry Sherlock, administrator of the Code, the seal of approval was granted. / ‘The Naked Eye’ thus becomes the first picture with scenes of total nudity ever to win an OK by the American industry’s censorship board. Although the Code specifically forbids such footage, Stoumen’s pleas that Weston’s figure studies were art and not pornography was granted, and the exception was made.
Stoumen apprised his investors of this historic exemption in a letter of 30 July 1956:
Other distribution and publicity developments include the granting of a seal of approval to the picture by the Hollywood Production Code—a publicity coup, as far as I’m concerned (we were headlined on the front page of Variety), as well as a small victory against censorship. Problem with the Code was of course Edward Weston’s nudes. Award of a seal to us makes THE NAKED EYE the first picture formally approved by the Hollywood censorship people ever to include extensive scenes of total nudity.
Variety had, indeed, published a front page article about The Naked Eye. It ran on 20 June 1956 under the cheeky title, “Total Nudity OK If Sincerely Arty”:
Hollywood, June 19. / Production Code Administration demonstrated again last week that it will give the most liberal possible interpretation to Code regulations to encourage art documentaries. PCA granted a seal to ‘The Naked Eye,’ indie written, produced and directed by Louis Clyde Stoumen, under the banner of Camera Eye Pictures, which includes extensive scenes of total nudity. It marks the first time that the code has thus approved such photography as an art form. / Code has in the past okayed such pix as ‘The Titan’ and others which included famous and sometimes nude works of art. ‘Eye’ was given similar approval because of the fact that its nudes are the work of internationally known still photographer Edward Weston. Latter [sic], PCA administrator Geoffrey Shurlock pointed out, [sic] ‘rates as a great artist’ and his work should be considered along with any other contemporary art in the field of documentary films. / It was emphasized that the seal does not indicate any letdown of Code regulations banning total nudity but demonstrates the Code’s determination to give producers the widest possible latitude in bringing works of art to the screen. / ‘Eye,’ which won the Robert J. Flaherty award for ‘creative achievement in documentary film,’ now is being dickered for regular theatrical release.
Notices regarding the PCA decision appeared in an array of industry and general audience publications, but Aline Mosby’s syndicated column seems to have been the most widely disseminated. On 2 November 1956, it even surfaced in the European Edition of the United States Military newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. The 25 October 1956 issue of the Monterey Peninsula Herald treated Weston’s Carmel area neighbors to an unexpurgated version of Mosby’s article, complete with a Cole Weston portrait of Edward. (See Note 6 for the full text of Mosby’s article.)
Of course, censorship extended beyond the contents of a film to the advertising and theater promotions which accompanied it. Surely, then, the lobby cards distributed for The Naked Eye—with their unadulterated reproductions of Nude on Sand, Oceano, 1936 and Margrethe Mather, 1923—must have startled and enticed. Suggestive imagery was nothing new to movie posters and lobby cards, but The Naked Eye likely marked the first time “legitimate” theaters felt free to display promotional material replete with overt nudity.
Over two years of preparation, filming and production preceded the release of this landmark documentary. In March 1954, Weston exclaimed to Nancy Newhall:
I’m going to have another movie done on my ‘life and works.’ Ask B & Dody [Brett Weston and Dody Thompson]. I’ll go down in history as a successful movie star! I’m writing to see if I can borrow the post-Mexico part of my Day Book? Need it for ‘atmosphere.’ You can have it back soon. … Brett and Dody will give you details of this latest venture.
Publicity material, progress reports and correspondence from Stoumen to his investors reveal the film’s trajectory. For example, on 1 August 1955, Stoumen wrote to his friend and investor C. Fulton Shaw, highlighting the movie’s overall progress as well as expectations for publicity and financing:
Dear Brother Fulton: / Greetings! I am at last home again from a 5-week location trip on your picture and Rock’s [a nickname for Fulton’s wife, Kay?] and mine, with good news to report. / Aside from the specific scenes Ed [Edward R. Martin, Production Associate on The Naked Eye] and I went after – – amateurs in the Grand Canyon, at the Statue of Liberty, at the Lincoln Memorial, material on the history of photography at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, etc. – – we ran into a lot of exciting and unexpected new material which will broaden the scope and audience appeal of the film. In particular we shot a whole sequence on the staff and operation of Life magazine. / … / This is of course the most valuable kind of publicity [from Life] we could hope for, and ought to be worth a lot of money in regard to sale and/or release. … / Other fruits of the trip include live action photography on the earliest history of the camera, on the earliest amateur photography, and on the Civil War photographs of Brady … / Sounds exciting? Okay, now for the commercial. We’ve got enough money on hand now to shoot the remaining material (about 20% of footage) and to complete a silent cut. … There is no longer any question in my mind but that we have a real off-beat sleeper, a financial tiger by the tail. The problem now is, however, as I told you in our last talk down at the Farm, that we now need the additional money so that writing of the music can be commissioned. … / … When we last spoke, Fulton, you said you thought you could make an additional investment at this time. Accordingly, I’d like to invite, and you Rock, to my office to look at some of the new material, particularly the Life and Civil War stuff, and to talk about an additional investment. The sum I have in mind is $3000. … / … and it looks that at this stage of the production we are very nicely within budget, having spent so far only about $20,000. Thus there is a possibility that despite all the agony we will come in under the 30,000 figure. …
An insight into the investors’ agreement utilized for The Naked Eye is found in this 15 August 1955 example sent to Shaw. Section I, Clause 3 is particularly interesting, for it discloses Stoumen’s agreement with Weston regarding the rights to his “lifework of photographs” and written work:
That the producing corporation has entered into a contract with Mr. Edward Weston, who has agreed to render services and participate in the production of the motion picture. To this end, Mr. Weston has granted to Mr. L.C. Stoumen, who herewith assigns them to the producing corporation, exclusive and complete right to use his entire lifework of photographs, writings, diaries, etc., in the making of said motion picture.
On 12 December 1955, Stoumen distributed an updated report to Shaw and the film’s other investors (twelve at this date, but fifteen by early 1956) announcing completion of filming and editing with only music and sound awaiting finalization. Particularly noteworthy are comments extolling the concluding color sequence on Weston and the technical innovations employed to achieve such stellar results:
… Last work to be accomplished was the Edward Weston color sequence, telling the story of Mr. Weston’s last period of creative work when he was already in failing health. The beauty and drama of this material is a most fitting emotional lift at the end of the film. The experts at Consolidated Laboratory say ours is the most beautiful color they have ever seen (“amazing” was one comment from a man who sees hundreds of thousands of feet each year), and in the photography of Weston’s color transparencies they feel we have solved (by use of experimental filters and black and white negative masks) technical problems in achieving subtleties of color rendition which have not been equalled. …
He also emphasized how the film’s Weston chapter is enriched by the content which precedes it:
The general plan of the film remains the same, but with the addition of theme song, the historical material, and Life Magazine, plus a very dramatic, sexy and funny Weegee sequence, we now see the major body of our film, the life work of Edward Weston, in a historical perspective and can better appreciate and be moved by his achievement.
Stoumen buoyantly announced the film’s near completion on 4 April 1956:
It is my pleasure to report that the final dubbing of sound tracks on the “Naked Eye” was completed last night, and we should have our first release print early next week. Hosanna! / Music, creative sound tracks and a beautifully read narration by Raymond Massey all add exciting new dimensions to our film. And it is now my considered judgement, supported by industry people whose opinions I respect, that we have a uniquely beautiful film of considerable interest to important audiences. The job of marketing and pre-release exploitation now begins, and it is my guess that you should have your total investment back plus the beginning of profit in a perhaps surprisingly short time. Will let you know soon the where and when of our first preview screening, as well as details on final production cost and sales activity. 
Production on The Naked Eye did, indeed, wrap in April 1956. On 25 May, Stoumen wrote:
A brief progress report on your picture and mine, “The Naked Eye.” Production was at long last completed April 6, with delivery to us of the first complete answer print. Final cut is 72 minutes, with sound effects, Elmer Bernstein’s most beautiful musical score, and an exciting and creative narration spoken by Raymond Massey.
Stoumen’s confidence in his film is manifest in the prompt submissions he made to a number of prestigious competitions. In the same 25 May Progress Report, he wrote:
Immediately the film was done we entered it in the annual Robert J. Flaherty Award competition in New York (for “creative achievement in documentary film”). We were ten days late for the deadline, but the judges gave us an extension, and we won the award. Two awards were made this year, one to “The Naked Eye” and one to the CBS mental health documentary “Out of Darkness.” Especially valuable to us was the circumstance that the Flaherty judges included the top New York movie critics—Bosley Crowther (N.Y. Times), Otis Guernsey, Jr. (N.Y. Herald Tribune), Archer Winsten (N.Y. Post), Cecile Starr (Saturday Review)—which gives us reasonable assurances of some important good reviews when the picture reaches the theatres. / … / We are entering the film in both the Edinburgh and Venice Festivals this summer for the publicity value and for the considerably greater earnings the film would likely achieve should we win, particularly earnings in Europe itself. / …
Such optimism was well justified—The Naked Eye went on to gain international acclaim and accrue a number of distinguished awards. In addition to the Flaherty, these included the Award Speciale at the Venice Film Festival, a special honor at the Edinburgh Festival and an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary (which it did not win). Following its August 1956 screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival, The Glasgow Herald published this positive review:
Going right to the heart of the matter, ‘The Naked Eye,’ an enthralling American documentary shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival yesterday, dealt with the camera itself. Beginning with light, a vast and fascinating subject on its own, the film explored the mechanics of the business from the discovery of the first camera. / It was the passages devoted to the camera artist, Edward Weston, that drew me particularly. His own technical methods are old-fashioned (he himself is now old) and—to the lay eye—fairly simple. For subjects he goes to the virile beauty of Mexico, the strange and fearful Death Valley, or the grotesque convolutions of vegetables, green peppers being his favourites. But time and again Weston turns back to the coastline of his own Californian home, photographing the rocks and trees and the rhythmic waves with the loving perception a man bestows on the place to which he belongs, and which he may not see very often again. /…
Publicity buzz for The Naked Eye began well in advance, not only of the film’s release, but prior to its actual completion. One of the earliest articles to reflect this is “Edward Weston, Purist,” which appeared in the October 1955 issue of The Rangefinder. Janet Marshall’s tribute illustrates six Weston photographs as well as a still from The Naked Eye depicting Edward and Brett assessing photographs. Marshall reported:
… A feature film, tentatively entitled ‘The Naked Eye’, now being made by Camera Eye Pictures, Inc., about the history of primitive and contemporary photography, has as its main body the biography of Edward Weston and his work. Using many of his photographs as well as live action, this film written and researched by Louis Clyde Stoumen is a story of seeing through the camera. It will be premiered at the Museum of Modern Art this winter [it did not premier at MoMA] and will later have a general release.
Pre-release screenings of the film were shown to select audiences of potential distributors, influential institutions, publications, and critics. Stoumen wrote to his investors on 1 April 1957:
… / THE NAKED EYE opens definitely in New York before the end of April, perhaps as early as Sunday, April 24, at the Fifth Avenue Cinema, at 12th street on Fifth Avenue. This is the newest show case of the Rugoff and Becker circuit, a middle-sized house which I understand has been attractively refurbished. / Extensive publicity activity has already begun, with advance stories and pictures in such media as the New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, Newsweek (March 25), an illustrated two-page article by me in the current Popular Photography (April), etc. etc. Regular press reviews will not appear until the opening, but we have good advance reason to expect important commendations, specifically from such critics as Bosley Crowther (New York Times) and Arthur Knight (Saturday Review). / … / During this too-lengthy period, between completion of the picture and its finally achieved premier booking, we pursued, and it seems quite correctly, a promotional and advertising campaign, achieving thereby major newspaper, magazine and wire service coverages (our press book is now quite full), and have won four major awards on an international basis— the Edinburgh Film Festival Award, the Special Award at the Venice Film Festival, the Robert J. Flaherty Award, and more recently an Academy Award nomination, about which more in a later paragraph.
He goes on to detail film distribution agreements and profit expectations, noting “… it is now my considered judgment that we all stand to make a meaningful profit on our venture. … During 1958 there should be continuing income from domestic theaters, from European and Asiatic markets, and from subsidiary television and 16mm sales.”
On 4 June 1957, Stoumen filed this jubilant report:
The enclosed photostat of newspaper reviews will give you an idea of the excellent reception THE NAKED EYE received in New York. Every single critic spoke well of us, including The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther, whose piece ran a week later and is not enclosed. The picture has also been doing well at the box-office, and you will note from the additional enclosed Variety clipping that we broke the thirty-year box-office record at the Fifth Avenue Cinema. This is not quite as magnificent as it looks, for the theater has only 250 seats and furthermore the figure of $7300. is an inflated one for publicity purposes, the true figure being around $6000. Nevertheless, the picture did actually break the thirty-year house record, and is now playing to good audiences in its second month. We expect somewhere between a 10 and 16-week run. EYE is also currently playing at the World in Chicago, and is booked for a number of theaters in the East and Midwest, towns like Cincinnati, Baltimore, Rochester, Philadelphia, the Boston area and a number of Atlantic coast resort towns. It will not likely hit California till the Fall, and will probably play the Beverly Cañon here. / … / Film Representations, Inc., our distributor, estimates we should have a domestic (that is, U.S.A.) gross of $200,000. over an eighteen-month period. If this happens it means that our share will return all capital to investors and some profit, leaving Europe and Asia and the rest of the world as clear profit. We anticipate especially good returns from Europe and Japan, and there is a possibility the picture will earn more money from foreign sales than domestic. So it seems if we are patient we’re not going to starve.
General release of The Naked Eye began on 21 April 1957 in New York City, where it found a warm reception. Bosley Crowther, The New York Times film critic about whom Stoumen was so enthusiastic, endorsed the film in this appreciative review on 28 April:
With all the unusual art accomplished in the medium of cinema—and we use that word ‘art’ absolutely, without gulping or batting an eye—it is strange that nobody has ever made a pip of a documentary film giving a stunning appreciation of what has been done and what can be done on the motion-picture screen. / Films have been made about painting, sculpture, the alphabet, hemstitching, chicken farming, bullfighting and the chemistry of cheese. We have seen in our time some memorable pictures about city planning and Eskimos, aerial warfare, flood control and mental illness. But we haven’t seen a bang-up film about films. / … / But no one has yet made a picture that faithfully and beautifully shows the development not of the mechanism but of the artistry and eloquence of the screen. / Art and Fun / This though has frequently disturbed us and it popped up again the other day while we were watching once more with rapt attention a little film called ‘The Naked Eye.’ This is an off-beat documentary about ‘the art and fun of (still) photography,’ made with obvious devotion by Louis Clyde Stoumen. It is at the Fifth Avenue Cinema. / Here, in a matter of seventy minutes, Mr. Stoumen gives us a quick review of the invention and development of the camera and of early photography. From the primitive work of Mathew Brady, William Jackson and Louis-Jacques Daguerre, he brings us with rapid leap-frogging to the modern journalist-photographers of today—to Margaret Bourke-White, the gnome called Weegee and Alfred Eisenstaedt. And then, in a climactic section that is the ultimate achievement of the film, he gives a scan of the life and work of Edward Weston that truly speaks the glory of photography. / Lest anyone get the idea that this necessarily selective review is mainly a lay-out of still pictures from the portfolios of the lensmen displayed, let us hasten to remark it is much more. It is, indeed, a swiftly moving resume of the thought, enthusiasm and vitality that go into the photographer’s art. / Creative / Mr. Stoumen has composed his documentary in such a creative way that the personalities of these photographers and their pictures seem to blend in a dynamic flow. With a few shots of Weegee, for instance, ankling [sic] along the night streets of New York, looking for the sort of candid close-ups of the raw face of the city that are his forte, he gives us a sense of the perception and persistence of the photographer. And this gives distinction to his pictures when they are flashed upon the screen. / More than this, when he comes to the study of Weston’s life and work, Mr. Stoumen gets into his picture an eloquence approaching poetry. Through some interesting shots of Weston’s field work (taken from a former film by Willard Van Dyke called ‘The Photographer’) and a beautiful selection of his pictures that indicate a change and maturing in his style—plus a fine flow of music by Elmer Bernstein and a strong narration that Raymond Massey speaks—the magic of Weston’s creation is deeply realized. The intellectual and emotional accumulation is comparable to that achieved in ‘The Titan—The Story of Michaelangelo.’ / Why shouldn’t someone be able to do the same sort of thing with the art of motion pictures?
The film’s official West Coast opening did not occur until October 1957, although a successful sneak preview had been held at the Hill Theater in Monterey in 1956 (see Press Release at the beginning of this post and related Note 3). The 1957 premier was marked by showings at San Francisco’s Bridge Theater on the 10th of October and Monterey’s Hill Theater on the 11th. As noted in the Monterey Peninsula Herald on 10 October, both Stoumen and Weston planned to attend the Monterey screening:
The life and work of Carmel Highlands famed ‘Picasso of the camera’—Edward Weston—dominates a prize-winning film opening tomorrow night at the Hill Theater in Monterey. / … / Stoumen will be at the Hill for tomorrow night’s opening. The Hill and the Bridge Theater in San Francisco are sharing a simultaneous West Coast premiere of the film. / Although he has been in poor health for several years, Weston plans to attend the premiere. / …
Stoumen later recounted Weston’s bittersweet emotional response to seeing the film at the Monterey opening: “… In 1956, with the help of Brett Weston and Dody Weston, I made what is probably (with Willard Van Dyke’s The Photographer) the definitive film about EW and his life’s work, The Naked Eye. The film premiered at a theater in Carmel. Edward was in the audience, his last public appearance. He cried.” [Stoumen seems to have mis-remembered: the premier was in Monterey, not Carmel.]
Carmel area residents may have waited nearly six months for a public showing of The Naked Eye, but an earlier, tantalizing and comprehensively detailed review by New York critic E.C. Goosen had run in the Monterey Peninsula Herald on 16 May 1957:
‘The Naked Eye’ is a documentary film about the art of still photography. It is for the most part a handsome job of movie making. More than half the 70-some minutes of its running time is devoted to the life and skill of Edward Weston, Carmel Highlands photographer, who is considered the world around one of the great men of this, the Protean age of the camera. / Since this is a motion picture about still pictures, one might expect to find one medium limiting the other. But Louis Clyde Stoumen, who wrote, directed and produced ‘The Naked Eye’ has bent each to the other to the enchantment of both. / The still pictures have even more life than they would on the museum wall and the composition of those shots which are recorded motion have the effect of having received the same careful and artful attention a still photographer would have given to one of his best pictures. / … / ‘The Naked Eye’ then comes to the subject it obviously most loved to present; Edward Weston. Unhurriedly and tenderly, Stoumen’s camera and commentary (spoken throughout by Raymond Massey), review Weston’s personal as well as his artistic history. Through the medium of hundreds of Weston’s pictures, selected from the files in the Highlands and coordinated with the historical account, an amazingly complete record of the evolution of his art is presented. / There are photographs to show his early portrait studio in Southern California and others to show the kind of work he did then, filled-in with a demonstration of the portrait photographer’s technique of retouching his sitter’s faces. Stoumen points out that Weston had a strong distaste for this last commercial necessity. To destroy the truth of what the camera found in a face seemed to him the opposite of its purpose and possibility. / A trip to New York brought him contact with a group of avant garde painters and artists who were aware of what was going on in France in the arts (cubism) and in the world of photography. The new interest in form for its own sake, frank and truthful, came across to Weston who began to pursue similar ends with his camera. / The film goes on to record the trips to Mexico, describing his appreciation of the new art developing there and amply illustrating the sort of work he did there himself. Afterwards, the return to Carmel and the great pictures of the coast, the rocks and flora and the sea. And then on to his Guggenheim Fellowship award which took him over most of the great landscape of the West. And then finally concluding with the last work before his illness, the color work, which makes a particularly handsome conclusion for the whole film, since the color bursts upon the screen somewhat after the manner of the conclusion of a Beethoven symphony. / Stoumen’s technique in presenting still photographs within the motion of his film camera [is] beautifully done. Though the method of showing only a portion of a picture and then moving across it or backing away from it to include more and more is now classic in the art film (used so often in making films about great paintings), the delicacy and compositional power here is superior to any I have yet seen. There are no such shots which are not meaningfully employed…in formal terms. It is true that since they are the re-recording of photos, there are times when one can not tell whether the movie camera is doing the work or whether it has been done in the still, but this is hardly important, since the commentary keeps one informed as to which is which. / Accompanying ‘The Naked Eye’ is a score written by Elmer Bernstein which is exceptionally well-done, one of the best in my recent memory. It is a film everyone should and will enjoy.
In addition to newspapers, a range of periodicals published extensive coverage of The Naked Eye. Print Magazine offered this effusive response to the Weston segment in its February–March 1957 issue:
Finally, in a perfectly wonderful closing chapter that almost dwarfs the entire picture, the life and career of the American camera titan, Edward Weston, is reconstructed. Weston’s rural scenes, nudes and coastal shots are pure poetry, and he has never compromised by conceding to the commercial. From the soft portraits of his early teens he progresses to an ever sharper, more essential reality. He sees nature in the large. When he comes down to smaller units, climaxing with the undraped female form, he produces some extraordinarily beautiful work. / Portions of the Weston sequence are credited to Willard Van Dyke’s earlier documentary, “The Photographer.” Using these, diary extracts and revealing shots of the elderly artist in his California home, Stoumen has recreated an unforgettable camera panorama of nature, topography and people, and a dedicated spirit.
Stoumen’s innovative filmmaking techniques received attention and praise in many evaluations of the film. In fact, Stoumen himself had emphasized them in the 1956 Press Release noted earlier in this essay:
“The Naked Eye” introduces new techniques of combining live action documentary photography with “photographic animation” in which action and story-telling relationships are imparted to still photographs by means of camera movements, optical effects, and elaborate sound and music tracks. / The editing of the picture is intricate and complex. There are in “The Naked eye” more cuts, dissolves, split screens, irises, fades and montage superimposures than in any other motion picture in history since, and perhaps including, the masterpieces of D.W. Griffin. The picture runs 71 minutes in wide-screen 35 mm black and white, and features a surprise final reel in brilliant color.
Modern Photography also commented on these technical advances in its August 1958 issue:
The Naked Eye is a feature length film about the fun and art of photography—and one most people who knew better didn’t think could be made. The idea of a film whose stars were largely still photographs seemed farfetched and totally unrealistic in terms of financial return. Audiences at movie houses showing The Naked Eye have proven that those who said it couldn’t be done were wrong. … / The Naked Eye is a reality because of the faith of Louis Clyde Stoumen, and the small group of people who share the work at Camera Eye Pictures, Inc. /… / It was his idea to state what photography meant to all the many people who own cameras—vacation snapshooters, advanced amateurs, photojournalists, news photographers, and the few who have elevated photography to the level of art. The film tells of the everyday use of the camera, some of the history of photography, and finally culminates in a retrospective study of Edward Weston and his work. / …The first task was to gain the cooperation of Edward Weston. It took Stoumen three months to convince Weston, a sick man, that the effort involved was worth it. / Stoumen then made hundreds of still photographs with a Rolleiflex of Weston’s finest photographs. The stills served as a story board and were invaluable in the final planning of sequences. / … / It took persuasion to convince Edward Weston that some of his pictures had to be cropped.
The article was enlivened by eight photographs used in the film. Two illustrations in particular capture the cinematic dynamism Stoumen achieved by superimposing still photographs:
Stoumen discussed making The Naked Eye in his April 1957 piece for Popular Photography. Two of the article’s illustrations were taken in Weston’s Wildcat Hill home—one shows him with Stoumen, the other depicts the setup used to shoot Weston’s photographs for the film. Stoumen also reveals the dilemma faced over cropping and otherwise manipulating Weston’s photographs for effective use in the movie:
Our first decision on these matters was that certain licenses just had to be taken with the still photographs in translating them to the motion-picture screen. Some pictures are cropped. In the case of Edward Weston, who is of course a great purist about print proportion, we had to go through a knock-down-drag-out argument before he was convinced this just had to be. Weston finally gave in gracefully. He approved the finished film. And he has said, in regard to print quality, that with some of the pictures we achieved a more beautiful quality of black-and-white gradations than he was ever able to accomplish with a paper print.
Additional insight into Stoumen’s novel filmmaking appeared in a widely syndicated 1957 review by Irving Desfor:
Photographers and their work, the theme of two vastly different current motion pictures should be especially interesting to camera fans since they shed light on photography as well as entertain. / One, ‘The Naked Eye,’ is a documentary which won special honors at the last Venice and Edinburgh Film Festivals and was a nominee for a 1957 Academy Award. / It’s a 71-minute study of photography’s highlights from its invention down to the current crop of camera addicts through a combination of photographic animation and of still pictures with live action. / The second, ‘Funny Face,’ is a Hollywood musical in which Fred Astaire plays the part of a high style photographer for a slick fashion magazine. … / ‘The Naked Eye’ has a darkroom sequence, too, in which a print is exposed and developed. This one is accurate, however, and as the print is shown gradually emerging, an observant camera fan might wonder how it was technically possible. In order to photograph the scene, some light was necessary. But any light at all would have fogged the print shown taking shape in the developer. / How it was done was explained by the man who wrote, directed, produced, photographed and edited the film—39-year-old Louis Clyde Stoumen. It was a trick technique in which the camera is held upside down while shooting. / A fully developed print of the correct picture is put into a tray of ferricyanide reducer. The solution bleaches the print from its full graduation of tones back to a blank piece of paper. The action takes place in low key lighting which, of course, has no effect on the print at all. / When this particular sequence is processed and finished, it is cut out and reversed, end for end. Now the action is seen right-side up but the blank paper is seen first and the image builds up into a fully developed print. / … / Actually, this upside-down-camera bit is but a minor trick in Stoumen’s repertoire in ‘The Naked Eye.’ It took more than three years of painstaking work during which he and his associates devised and built special equipment to make still pictures give the appearance of motion. / Thus when some of the historic examples of Daguerre, Mathew Brady and others are needed to trace photography’s evolution, the camera zooms in from an all-over shot to search out details. Sound effects and music are added to camera motion to make the picture come alive. / A major portion of the film is devoted to the life and lifework of Edward Weston, the camera artist of the California coast. At the point in the history where Weston first experiments with color film, the movie itself switches from black-and-white to color thereby adding visual impact to the story line. / ‘The Naked Eye’ also casts more than a discerning glance at Weegee, the famous camera character of New York’s lower East Side, and follows him around as he shoots some typical pictures. / It all adds up to a meaningful and interesting scrutiny of photography which should hold the attention of all movie goers and provide an extra thrill for those who follow it as a hobby or profession.
The Naked Eye continued to impress audiences throughout the ensuing years. For example, an enthusiastic review in the Rochester [New York] Democrat and Chronicle on 1 March 1958 noted:
There’s a new dimension to the world to be discovered in the Cinema’s new movie, ‘The Naked Eye.’ / Billed as a story of the art and the fun of photography, the picture principally is an adventure with Edward Weston, one of the great contemporary photographers. / It is doubtful that anyone can leave the theater—even those initiated in the art of photography—without possessing a new knowledge about beauty. The discoveries that hereafter await the viewer lie in the most familiar spots—doorways, stairways, fields, clouds and garden vegetables. Seldom has a film been made to impart so much enrichment to its viewers. / FILMED WITH THE ASSISTANCE of the George Eastman House in Rochester, which provided introductory backgrounds, the movie shows some significant pictures of the last century … / And then comes Weston and his wonderful world of discovery in trees and hills, rocks and sands, in long vistas and closeups of such small things as mushrooms and garden peppers. / HE MADE photographic history with plowed furrows, blossoming trees placed like white buttons over a dark mountain slope, marks in sand, erosions in rocks, gnarled trees, and sometimes people. His career extends over half a century. / Louis Clyde Stoumen, who produced and directed the film, showed much of Weston’s work which has been exhibited at the George Eastman House in Rochester. Eastman House and the small house at the rear was the birthplace of George Eastman, a photograph of the young George Eastman and some of the cameras in the museum are seen in the movie. / Stoumen’s documentary has won an Oscar and several international prizes.
Of course, The Naked Eye did not please everyone. Weston’s friend and previous film biographer, Willard Van Dyke (whose film The Photographer had come out in 1948), wrote unsparingly to Weston on 8 October 1956:
At last I have seen ‘The Naked Eye.’ The film, as I told Lou [Stoumen], is difficult for me to evaluate. It is almost impossible for me to separate my feelings about the events recalled by the images on the screen from the picture as a film. However deeply I was moved, there still are serious reservations. / I must confess that the first-person narration for your section leaves me with a sense of deep dissatisfaction if not downright disgust. Lou tells me that most of the words come from your daybook. Well, perhaps there is a difference between words put down for one’s own eyes (or for future generations) and words meant to be read aloud by an actor. Or perhaps the actor needed more understanding direction. Or perhaps the actor just wasn’t up to the task. In any case the syrupy delivery was about as far from a truthful representation of you as it could get. I have seriously considered trying to rouse funds to get another actor to do those sections over again. What do you think? / There were, of course, serious distortions of fact concerning all of the women portrayed in the film. Perhaps this was unavoidable, but I felt Tina could have been handled better. And so could Charis. Again this damned saccarine [sic] approach. I don’t suggest that complete frankness in this area is necessary or desirable, but one doesn’t have to drip honey from the sound track. / …
Floyd Stone, a critic for Motion Picture Daily had reservations as well, although these did not extend to the segment on Weston: “This possibly is not the definitive ode to photography, but currently it will have to do. It is strong in some parts but weak in the overall effect. … / … and lastly but importantly, a study, perceptive and poetic and uniquely moving, of Edward Weston, the man and his work. / This portion probably won the picture its Edinburgh and Venice film festival honors and the Robert J. Flaherty Award, which in promotion to the intellectuals will have impact. …”
Two reviews in Films in Review voiced similar ambivalence about the film as a whole but waxed enthusiastic about Weston. In the November 1956 issue Jean Wolfe Murray’s overview of the Edinburgh Film Festival griped:
… The Naked Eye is a 71-minute history of photography—from Leonardo through Matthew Brady to Edward Weston. Had not the stills composing it been so skillfully put together, by producer-director Louis C. Stoumen of the US, this film might better have been a magic-lantern show. Even so, it does go on a bit too long, largely because there is so much Weston in it. Personally, I found Weston’s pictures, and changes of style, fascinating. And, Brady’s pictures of the Civil War, of course, are absorbing. Weegee’s pictures can be found in the morgue of any newspaper. / …
In May 1957, the magazine also stated:
A motion picture about still photography could easily be a bore, but by devoting at least half its footage to the work of Edward Weston, The Naked Eye acquires an interest, and stature, it would not otherwise possess. Weston is our greatest still photographer, and the examples of his work eulogistically examined here by the motion picture camera, prove irrefutably that still photography, when practised [sic] by an esthetically informed and dedicated man, is an art form of limitless potentiality.
But why conclude on a critical note? Despite a modicum of detractors, the majority of The Naked Eye reviews were glowing. So, let us end with William K. Zinsser’s appraisal, published in the New York Herald Tribune on 22 April 1957:
… ‘The Naked Eye,’ which opened yesterday at the Fifth Avenue Cinema, is a seventy-minute documentary about ‘the fun and art of photography.’ It has won prizes at film festivals abroad, and this is not surprising. / It is a picture of perception and beauty. It notes the pleasures that any man can have with a camera, especially if he is a tourist or a parent. But mainly it is an ode to certain men and women who raised photography to the level of art. / It goes back to Daguerre’s fuzzy Paris street scenes and Matthew Brady’s eloquent portraits and Civil War battlefields. It reconstructs the assassination of Lincoln through photographs of John Wilkes Booth and his sullen accomplices, and it recalls the steps leading to young George Eastman’s invention of the flexible film. His gadget made him a millionaire and turned the camera into a popular toy. ‘You press the button, we do the rest’ was the boast painted on the side of his factory in Rochester. / But experts, not amateurs, are the stars of this movie. It touches on the work of Margaret Bourke-White—her studies of the West in depression days, of war in Europe, of great cities seen from the air. / It pays tribute to the work of ‘Life’ photographer Alfred Eisenstadt, particularly his searching portraits of Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and other great men of the twentieth century. / It follows the restless Weegee on his walks around New York, snapping the city with its hair down. There is great truth and pathos in his shots of spectators at a fire, gangsters in police court, girls swooning under Sinatra’s velvety spell, glittering dowagers at the opera, blowzy old tarts in a Bowery saloon, jazz musicians and lonely sailors in the garish night spots of Broadway. This is more good reporting; each of Weegee’s pictures is a human document. / Finally ‘The Naked Eye’ has a long appreciation of Edward Weston, who for fifty years has worked ‘with a purity of spirit and purpose almost religious in nature.’ If fame has eluded him, this movie should repair the damage, for obviously Weston is a major poet of the American scene. / In his landscapes there is a rare serenity and sense of composition, and the film moves with gentle beauty from his boyhood, when he used his first camera to snap the bleak waves on a California beach, across the years to his present old age—a sick man still manipulating a camera in pain ‘to reveal the world around us, to show how extraordinary are the simplest things.’ / As a movie, ‘The Naked Eye’ has some good techniques of its own. Louis Clyde Stoumen, who made it, tells his story in striking patterns and ‘dissolves,’ and his script has a warm respect for the whole field of photography. Raymond Massey is the congenial narrator, and Elmer Bernstein’s score catches the appropriate rhythms and moods of America.
1 Louis Clyde Stoumen, (Photographs and Text) and William A. Ewing (Introduction), Ordinary Miracles The Photography of Lou Stoumen, Los Angeles: Hand Press, 1981.
2 Aline Mosby, “More Naked Than Eyes in ‘Naked Eye’,” San Francisco Chronicle, 17 October 1956, 15.
Mosby’s article appeared under various titles and edited versions as a United Press syndicated newspaper column between 25 October and 2 November 1956. The San Francisco Chronicle fashioned its own article title. See Notes 6–7, below for comparisons.
3 [Press Release] [Louis Clyde Stoumen], Camera Eye Pictures, Inc. presents Louis Clyde Stoumen’s The Naked Eye. Hollywood, California: Camera Eye Pictures, Inc., . (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
Details on page 3 of this Press Release relate to a preview held at the Hill Theater in Monterey in 1956:
“The Naked Eye” has not at this writing been publicly released or screened for reviewers and the press, except for a special screening for its membership at the invitation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood. However, a sneak preview was recently held, and the public response seemed exceptionally good. / Preview was at the Hill Theater in Monterey, California, which seats about 350. Of the 220 people in the audience, 141 reaction cards were returned. …
4 Progress Report from Stoumen to investors; dated 30 July 1956; mimeographed/typewritten on “Camera Eye Pictures Inc.” letterhead; handwritten annotation at top of p. 1 reads: “Greetings, / Fulton. Sorry / we missed you / and the new / show the other day. / L.”; 2-pages/2 sheets; not signed. (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
5 “Total Nudity Okay If Sincerely Arty—New Code Viewpoint,” Variety (20 June 1956), 1, 53.
6 Aline Mosby, “Censors Pass Nude Film on Photography,” The Stars and Stripes [European Edition, published in Darmstadt, Germany] (2 November 1956), 15.
7 Aline Mosby, “Weston Pictures in Movie: Nudes Pass Censor in Unusual Film,” Monterey Peninsula Herald (25 October 1956), 7. (Edward Weston Archives, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, Box 30, Folder 11)
The full version of Mosby’s article reads:
By Aline Mosby / United Press Staff Correspondent / HOLLYWOOD (UP) — U.S. Movie fans may be startled when they see a movie about photography, “The Naked Eye,” because the eye is not the only object in the film that is nude. / For the first time in a Hollywood film, female nudes will be shown on the screen. And for the first time for any country’s movies, Hollywood’s own censor, the Johnston office, awarded its seal of approval to the picture, nudes and all. / “The Naked Eye” nudes don’t move. They are still photographs made by famed lensman Edward Weston of models lying on the sand dunes near to his Monterey, Calif., home. “The Naked Eye,” billed as the story of the ‘Art and Fun of Photography’, also shows the photography—dressed—of Alfred Eisenstadt, Margaret Bourke-White, Weegee, Daguerre and other masters of the camera. / Contender for Oscar / “The Movie,” a hot contender for the documentary Oscar next March, was virtually a one-man effort by Louis Stoumen. / ‘I included the nudes because they are among the most beautiful in the art of photography,’ explained Stoumen. ‘We hope Weston, the photographer, will be recognized as a major artist, another Rembrandt. / We thought the censors at the Johnston office would be ladies in fussy hats, but not at all. They were human beings. They thought it was an artistic, wholesome picture. / At first they said we couldn’t have a seal because the production code says no nudity. Then the head censor gave us the seal. He suggested we take out one of our own shots of Weston’s nude model moving around his house.’ / Stoumen wrote, directed, produced, photographed and edited the 71-minute unusual movie—most of it in the tiny bedroom of an apartment he converted into his “motion picture studio.” / The picture has no actors, sets, costumes, or usual script. Two-thirds of the movie doesn’t “move”, but consists of still photographs. Through camera tricks the photos appear to have action, a formula that was used before for such art films as “The Titan.” / For the live action scenes, Stoumen’s “actors” were real tourists taking snapshots in Washington, and camera bugs buying equipment in stores. / Stoumen took almost three years to make “The Naked Eye”, taking time out to make educational and industrial movies and TV commercials to finance his pet project. Friends also invested in “The Naked Eye”—from a member of the Hollywood press to a local psychiatrist. / “The Naked Eye” won awards at the Edinburgh and Venice film festivals and the Robert J. Flaherty Award for documentary films. But Stoumen is also proud of a headline in Variety, a trade paper, after he won his censors seal of approval: “Total nudity OK if sincerely arty.”
8 Lobby cards for the film The Naked Eye by Louis Clyde Stoumen. Academy Award Winner Louis Clyde Stoumen’s The Naked Eye. A Camera Eye Pictures, Inc. Production, [No publication place], 1957. (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
The lead-in text “Academy Award Winner / Louis Clyde Stoumen’s / The Naked Eye,” is misleading. The Naked Eye was nominated for an Academy Award, but did not win at the 1957 Awards. Stoumen did, however receive an Oscar that year for his short documentary, The True Story of the Civil War. The claim “Academy Award Winner” likely refers to Stoumen, not The Naked Eye. See Note 19, below.
9 Edward Weston to Nancy Newhall, letter postmarked 5 March 1954. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art Archives.
Weston’s comment on “another movie done on my life and work” refers to The Photographer, a film made by Willard Van Dyke that was released in 1948.
10 C. [Charles] Fulton Shaw was an associate of Walter Knox of Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. Shaw originated the theme park’s Old MacDonald’s Farm attraction and his wife Kay (Katherine) founded the Farm’s Bird Cage Theater. Both Old MacDonald’s Farm and Ghost Town (the address used by Stoumen) were major Knott’s Berry Farm features. In addition to The Naked Eye, Shaw invested in other Lou Stoumen/Camera Eye Pictures projects, including The True Story of the Civil War. The Shaws were a civic minded couple whose involvement with the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce and its offshoot, the Fiesta Association, led to the founding of that Association’s major event, the Swallow’s Day Parade, officially launched in 1954.
11 Letter/Progress Report from Stoumen to Fulton Shaw; dated 1 August 1955; typewritten on “Camera Eye Pictures Inc. / Louis Clyde Stoumen” letterhead; 3 pages/3 sheets / signed “Lou.” (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
Despite Stoumen’s expectations that Life magazine would run a feature on The Naked Eye, my thorough review of Life magazine reveals that no such article.
12 Investment Agreement between Camera Eye Productions and Fulton Shaw; dated 15 August 1955; typewritten with handwritten annotations, 9 pages/9 sheets; signed “Louis C. Stoumen.” (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
13 In a 1 February 1956 report addressed to Fulton Shaw but sent to all investors, Stoumen notes: “Dear Investor: / A progress report on your picture and mine, “The Naked Eye.” And do forgive that this letter is mimeo-graphed, for there are now fifteen of you and secretarial overhead comes out of your pocket as well as mine.” Progress Report, dated 10 February 1956; mimeographed, typewritten on “Camera Eye Pictures Inc.” letterhead; 2-pages/2 sheets; signed “Lou.” (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
14 Progress Report from Stoumen to Fulton Shaw; dated 12 December 1955; mimeographed, typewritten on “Camera Eye Pictures Inc. / Louis Clyde Stoumen” letterhead; 5 pages/5 sheets; signed “Lou.” (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
Another interesting facet of this report is the information Stoumen shares about the film’s composer, Elmer Bernstein who, at the time, was insufficiently well known to warrant this description: “Incidentally, you will have a chance to hear an example of the work of our composer, Elmer Bernstein, upon the release in a couple of weeks of Otto Preminger’s “The Man with the Golden Arm.” Also, Decca is releasing his score for the picture in an album. Elmer has also recently completed a score for Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments,” but that one won’t be released for months. / …”
15 Ibid., p. 3.
16 Progress report addressed to “Dear Investor”; dated 4 April 1956; mimeographed, typewritten, 1-page/1 sheet on “Camera Eye Pictures Inc.” letterhead; signed “Lou S.” (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
Stoumen repeatedly refers to narration by Raymond Massey in the Reports included in this essay. However, the original choice for a narrator was Burgess Meredith, who ultimately dropped out due to contractual issues.
17 Progress report from Stoumen to investors; dated 25 May 1956; mimeographed, typewritten on “Camera Eye Pictures Inc.” letterhead; 2 pages/2 sheets; handwritten annotation at top of p. 1 reads: “Fulton: Have another agreeable letter re “Charlotte’s Web.” Let’s get together later this week. –L.”; signed “Lou.” (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
18 Ibid., p. 1.
19 The Oscar winning documentary was The Silent World by Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Stoumen did receive an Oscar that year (1957) for his other 1956 film release, The True Story of the Civil War, which won the Award for Best Documentary in the Short Subjects category.
20 “Film Festival: The Art of the Camera,” The Glasgow Herald [Scotland] (31 August 1956), 8.
21 Janet Marshall, “Edward Weston, Purist,” The Rangefinder 4:10 (October 1955), Cover, 12–13, 17.
At the conclusion of her article, Marshall notes: “The editor wishes to express appreciation to Dody Weston and Louis Stoumen for courtesies extended toward the compiling of this material.” Elsewhere in the magazine, in the “Editor’s Note” column, she also comments: “In this issue we are paying tribute to a great artist in our profession, Edward Weston, whose creative genius is at a standstill, due to an irremiable [sic] illness We would like to suggest that you treat yourselves to a life-time’s worth of inspiration by purchasing as many Weston prints as you can afford. Display them where they are constantly within your gaze so that his concepts of texture and design are with you always. You will be doing yourselves a tremendous favor and at the same time will make his days more bearable.” NOTE: I have not been able to substantiate the MoMA premier reported by Marshall.
22 Progress report from Stoumen to investors with typewritten address of “Mr. Fulton Shaw / Old MacDonald’s Farm / Knott’s Berry Farm & Ghost Town / Buena Park, California”; dated 1 April 1957; mimeographed, typewritten on “Camera Eye Pictures Inc.” letterhead; handwritten annotation at top of p. 1 reads: Hi Kid! / L.”; 5-pages/5sheets; signed “Lou.” (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
In this report, Stoumen also outlines his efforts to achieve a favorable distribution agreement:
A quick rundown on my stewardship of our mutual enterprise since the last report. As you know, we tried all possible avenues for an outright sale of the picture to the major studios and network television, or for a distribution deal with them which would guarantee your investment and the fruits of all our labors. This activity did not prove successful due to our reluctance to dispose of the picture for what seemed to us inadequate return as well as to studio and network doubts about the picture’s earning potential. For THE NAKED EYE is indeed an offbeat, non-routine “product” both in its content and in its form. / … / After exhausting the major studio and network possibilities—where we had numerous expressions of real interest and a couple of close, fine almost deals—we screened the picture for most of the big independent distributors, the people, mostly in New York, who handled such special films as “Gate of Hell”, “La Strada”, etc., and with only one exception all these distributors expressed enthusiasm for the picture and offered to distribute for us, on a straight percentage basis, uniformly 50% for us and 50% for them after cost of prints and advertising. None of them would advance cash. We finally accepted the proposal of a relatively new outfit called Film Representations, Inc., composed mainly of the former sales manager and the former advertising manager of Continental Distributing, Inc., the latter an old established firm which in the recent past handled such pictures as “Secrets of the Reef” and Alec Guiness’ “The Lady Killers”. Film Representations, Inc.’s deal is now embodied in a sixteen page contract mutually written by their attorney and ours which is extremely favorable to us. …
23 Ibid., pp. 2-3.
24 Progress report from Stoumen to investors with typewritten address of “Mr. Fulton Shaw / Old MacDonald’s Farm / Knott’s Berry Farm & Ghost Town / Buena Park, California”; dated 4 June 1957; mimeographed, typewritten on “Camera Eye Pictures Inc.” letterhead; handwritten annotation at top of p. 1 reads: “Copy for Catherine Coleman / Hi, Kay! / Lou”; 5-pages/5sheets; no signature. (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
25 Bosley Crowther, “Camera Magic: Photographic Poetry in ‘The Naked Eye’, The New York Times (28 April 1957), Sec. 2, p. X1.
An earlier review, by “H.H.T.,” also appeared in The New York Times, the day after the film opened [H.H.T., “The Screen: ‘Naked Eye’ Opens,” The New York Times (22 April 1957), 31]:
The Naked Eye, written, directed and produced by Louis Clyde Stoumen; presented by Camera Eye Pictures, Inc., and released by Film Representations, Inc. At the Fifth Avenue Cinema. / A sprawling, frankly selective and generally stimulating documentary on American photography called ‘The Naked Eye’ opened yesterday at the Fifth Avenue Cinema. As an illustrative sampling of photographic history, a closer look at the works of three contemporary artists and a tribute to the probable giant of them all, this Film Representations, Inc., release should draw a wide, interested audience. / Written, directed and produced by Louis Clyde Stoumen, a man who obviously knows and loves his craft, the film seems sure to draw reactions as contrasting as today’s extreme levels of camera addicts—the millions of amateur shutter-clickers and our most seasoned professionals. / As a piece of movie-making, blending still shots and live footage, the film is professional from start to finish, abetted by Elmer Bernstein’s excellent musical score and the sensible narration spoken by Raymond Massey. If the display remains staggeringly varied in subject, power and beauty, seventy-one minutes can hardly define a 100-year history. Mr. Stoumen is concerned, he wisely prefaces, with the ‘fun and art’ of photography. Even so, the most casual Brownie home operator may note some curious omissions. / Most of what we see, however, remains fascinating. If the origin and development of still photography seems fairly familiar footage by now, the sight of the entire gallery of Lincoln’s assassins, the Mathew Brady glimpses of the Civil War and George Eastman’s later contributions are still impressive. / The footage expands more personally for some magnificent layouts by Margaret Bourke-White and Alfred Eisenstaedt (briefly seen in a darkroom inspecting his remarkable twenty-fifth-anniversary collection). Next comes an affectionate, candid close-up of the unique Weegee and the raw hilarity and despair caught by his urban camera prowling. / Finally, in a perfectly wonderful closing chapter that dwarfs the entire picture, Mr. Stoumen has reconstructed the life and career of an American camera titan, Edward Weston. Portions of this soaring sequence are credited to Willard Van Dyke’s earlier documentary, “‘The Photographer.’ Using diary extracts and revealing shots of the elderly artist in his California home, Mr. Stoumen has re-created an unforgettable camera panorama of nature, topography and people, and a dedicated spirit. / Perhaps the most curious and indicative aspect of this film is the abruptly superfluous use of color toward the end. It just isn’t needed. One viewer, who will take four Edward Steichen pictures to one Weegee, also wishes that Mr. Stoumen, a recent ‘Oscar’ winner, had let us in on the inter-relationship of the still camera and his own movie camera. But if this picture’s purpose was to whet the visual appetite, it succeeds. / H.H.T.
26 “Movie of Life, Work Of Edward Weston Due Tomorrow in Monterey,” Monterey Peninsula Herald [California] (10 October 1957), 3.
27 Op. Cit. Ordinary Miracles, page 8.
Although Stoumen notes the premier occurred in Carmel, I have only found references to the showing at the Hill Theatre in Monterey. It seems Stoumen attended the San Francisco opening as well. On 8 October 1957 he wrote to Fulton Shaw: “This coming weekend I will probably visit Carmel [handwritten annotation:] —and San Francisco [typewritten:] for the opening of THE NAKED EYE there, and will thus also work a couple of days with Alan on the script [of a different film].” Louis Clyde Stoumen to Fulton Shaw, letter dated 8 October 1957; on Camera Eye Pictures, Inc. / Louis Clyde Stoumen letterhead; typewritten/mimeographed; 1page/1 sheet; signed “Lou”; additional hand annotation by Dody Weston Thompson at bottom of page: “Hello from me too! Do sometime send us back our copy of the Joint Venture Contract. See you soon—Dody.” (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann)
28 E.C. Goosen, “Around the Arts: ‘The Naked Eye’,” Monterey Peninsula Herald [California] (16 May 1957), 26.
29 Robert Licker, “Top Drawer,” Print Magazine 11:1 (February–March 1957), .
30 Op. Cit. Press Release, Camera Eye Pictures, Inc. presents Louis Clyde Stoumen’s The Naked Eye, .
31 Myron A. Matzkin, “Still Pictures Move: A Feature Film About Photography is Characterized by Planned Editing,” Modern Photography 21:8 (August 1957), 84–85, 108, 110. [8 Illus.]
32 Louis Clyde Stoumen, “Movie Section: The Naked Eye Makes Still Pictures Move,” Popular Photography 40:4 (April 1957), 116-117, 125-127.
33 Irving Desfor, “Movies and Photography: A Tuesday Camera Column,” The Christian Science Monitor (7 May 1957), 19.
34 Jean Walrath, “ ‘Naked Eye’ at Cinema Photography Adventure,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle [New York] (1 March 1958), 18.
35 Leslie Squyres Calmes, The Letters Between Edward Weston and Willard Van Dyke, Tucson, Arizona: Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, 1992, Letter 72, 8 October 1956, pp. 51–52.
36 Floyd Stone, “The Naked Eye Camera Eye Pictures—Film Representations, Inc.,” Motion Picture Daily (25 March 1957), 5.
37 Jean Wolfe Murray, “Letters: Edinburgh’s Festival,” Films in Review 7:9 (November 1956), 475–476.
38 George Lord, “The Naked Eye,” Films in Review 8:5 (May 1957), 226–227.
39 William K. Zinsser, “Screen: ‘The Naked Eye’,” New York Herald Tribune (22 April 1957), unidentified.
The Following is a Brief List of the Production Credits for The Naked Eye
Producer, Writer, Editor, Photography: Louis Clyde Stoumen
Associate Producers: Helen Hahn and Gordon Weisenborn
Production Associates: Sue Leonard, Chet Phebus
Music Composition and Conducting: Elmer Bernstein
Orchestrator: Ernest Gold
Narration: Raymond Massey
Sound Editor: Charles Diltz
Technical Consultants: Benjamin Berg, Jacque Fresco, Brett Weston, Dody Weston [Thompson]
Production Associates: Irvin Kershner and Edward R. Martin
Production Company: Camera Eye Pictures, Inc.
Distribution: Film Representations, Inc.
2 thoughts on “19 January 2022: “More Naked Than Eyes in ‘Naked Eye'”: Louis Clyde Stoumen, Edward Weston and The Naked Eye”
Incredible article about Weston and the issue of his nude photographs and Hollywood censorship!
Thank you, Chuck. I’m glad you found this as interesting to read as I did to write.