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The Naked Eye

The Naked Eye(1957)

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This film about "the fun and art of photography" begins with a short sequence on the amateur use of photographs to document family members and events, then presents a brief history of the origins of photography and its progress over a little more than a hundred years. The work of European pioneers such as Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Jacques Daguerre and Fox Talbot is introduced, followed by selections of the photographic portraits that American Matthew Brady made of celebrated persons such as Jenny Lind, Brigham Young and Abraham Lincoln. Brady's documentation of the Civil War is also presented. These early, professional photographs were made on glass plates, but in 1888, George Eastman introduces a flexible film base, then manufactures Kodak cameras in which to use it, making it possible for mere amateurs to take photographs. Over the years, photographs of many local, national and international events result in the evolution, in 1936, of Life Magazine, which emphasizes the use of photographs, accompanied by only short, written captions, to present a story or record of an event. Among the people employed by Life is Margaret Bourke-White, whose photographic essays depicting the country and its people during the Depression received great acclaim. During World War II, Life pioneers the use of aerial photography to document bombing raids on Germany and, later, utilizes the same techniques to present novel views of American cities from the air. Famous Life photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, a pioneer in "candid" photography and photo-journalism, is seen returning from an assignment. More than a million of his 35mm negatives have been developed in Life's laboratory. Eisenstaedt also specializes in portraits of famous people, and several of these are presented in a sequence covering the 25th anniversary exhibit of his work. Eisenstaedt's talent has inspired many people to take up photography. The purchase of photographic equipment in the U.S. alone resulted in a profit of approximately a billion dollars a year in the mid-1950s. Another well-known photographer, Weegee (Arthur Felig), described "as an amateur at heart," is seen prowling New York City at night for images to add to his collection of the seamier side of life: pictures of drunks, murderers, gangsters, transvestites, strippers, fires, accidents, police courts and dead bodies. The film's narration notes that each person sees the world differently and that we photograph what interests us. In contrast to the earlier work, approximately the last half of The Naked Eye is devoted to a presentation of photography as art, specifically through the lifework of Edward Weston, most famous for his studies of nature and the forms and sculptures created by natural elements. A sequence depicts Weston, at age seventy, a victim of Parkinson's Disease, at work in his home at Point Lobos, California, with his daughter-in-law, Dody Weston, indexing eight thousand of his greatest photographs while Brett, one of his four sons, works in a darkroom making new prints from the 8 x 10 negatives. By using Weston's personal photographic album, his career is traced from his first studio in Glendale, California, to his marriage to his first wife Flora, and the births of their four sons, through his time in New York when he was influenced by the work of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand, and his experiences working in Mexico. When he returns to the U.S. in 1926 and settles on the West Coast, he begins to make abstract images of the forms and shapes found inside vegetables and in nature. Weston also continues a distinguished career as a portrait photographer as evidenced by his studies of Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, D. H. Lawrence, Lincoln Steffens, Henry Fonda and many others. In 1937, Weston is awarded a fellowship, the first given to a photographer, by the Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to create a series of photographs of the American West and completes the assignment with the help of his second wife Charis, whom he marries when she is nineteen years old and he is fifty-two. In 1940, Weston is assigned to produce images to complement the publication of a new edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass . During World War II, Weston begins to photograph striking images of female nude forms in sand dunes. He also photographs many of his beloved cats. After eleven years, his marriage with Charis ends and, before being stricken by Parkinson's Disease, he begins to shoot solely in color. Using 8 x 10 sheets of Kodachrome and Ektachrome film, he forces himself to learn new techniques to photograph abstract images in the hope that viewers will discover the wonder that exists in simple things.