Dody Weston Thompson

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Dody Weston Thompson

Dody at Point Lobos 1997.jpg

Dody Weston Thompson, Point Lobos, California, 1997, by Robert Backstrand
BornDora Harrison
(1923-04-11)April 11, 1923
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died October 14, 2012(2012-10-14) (aged 89) [1]
Los Angeles, California
Nationality American
Education Sophie Newcomb College
Black Mountain College
Known for Photography
Movement The West Coast Photographic Movement
Awards Albert M. Bender Award
Patron(s) Edward Weston
Polaroid Corporation's
Artist Support Program
Dody Weston Thompson
Other names Dody Warren

Dody Weston Thompson (April 11, 1923 – October 14, 2012 [1] ) was a 20th-century American photographer and chronicler of the history and craft of photography. She learned the art in 1947 and developed her own expression of “straight” or realistic photography, the style that emerged in Northern California in the 1930s. Dody worked closely with contemporary icons Edward Weston (her former father-in-law), Brett Weston (her former husband) and Ansel Adams (as an assistant and a friend) during the late 1940s and through the 1950s, with additional collaboration with Brett Weston in the 1980s.

Pure photography or straight photography refers to photography that attempts to depict a scene or subject in sharp focus and detail, in accordance with the qualities that distinguish photography from other visual media, particularly painting. Originating as early as 1904, the term was used by critic Sadakichi Hartmann in the magazine Camera Work, and later promoted by its editor, Alfred Stieglitz, as a more pure form of photography than Pictorialism. Once popularized by Stieglitz and other notable photographers, such as Paul Strand, it later became a hallmark of Western photographers, such as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and others.

Edward Weston American photographer

Edward Henry Weston was a 20th-century American photographer. He has been called "one of the most innovative and influential American photographers…" and "one of the masters of 20th century photography." Over the course of his 40-year career Weston photographed an increasingly expansive set of subjects, including landscapes, still lives, nudes, portraits, genre scenes and even whimsical parodies. It is said that he developed a "quintessentially American, and specially Californian, approach to modern photography" because of his focus on the people and places of the American West. In 1937 Weston was the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, and over the next two years he produced nearly 1,400 negatives using his 8 × 10 view camera. Some of his most famous photographs were taken of the trees and rocks at Point Lobos, California, near where he lived for many years.

Brett Weston American photographer

Theodore Brett Weston was an American photographer. Van Deren Coke described Brett Weston as the "child genius of American photography." He was the second of the four sons of photographer Edward Weston and Flora Chandler.


Dody was invited in 1949 to artistically participate with the remaining members of the photographic organization Group f/64, a bastion of the emerging West Coast Photographic Movement. In 1950, she was also one of the founding members of the non-profit organization that published the photographic journal Aperture in 1952, to which she was also a contributor. In 1952, she was co-awarded the prestigious Albert M. Bender Award (known informally in the West as the “Little Guggenheim”) which financed a year's work in photography. Her camera work is represented in dozens of museums and private collections as well as in many photographic books and magazines. She also participated in multiple solo and group exhibitions from 1948 through 2006 in the United States and Japan.

Group f/64 voluntary association

Group f/64 was a group founded by seven 20th-century San Francisco Bay Area photographers who shared a common photographic style characterized by sharply focused and carefully framed images seen through a particularly Western (U.S.) viewpoint. In part, they formed in opposition to the pictorialist photographic style that had dominated much of the early 20th century, but moreover, they wanted to promote a new modernist aesthetic that was based on precisely exposed images of natural forms and found objects.

<i>Aperture</i> (magazine)

Aperture magazine, based in New York City, is an international quarterly journal specializing in photography. Founded in 1952, Aperture magazine is the flagship publication of Aperture Foundation.

Albert Maurice Bender was a leading patron of the arts in San Francisco in the 1920s and 1930s, who played a key role in the early career of Ansel Adams and was one of Diego Rivera's first American patrons. By providing financial assistance to artists, writers and institutions he had a significant impact on the cultural development of the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

Dody penned commentary on the history of photography and on the techniques of contemporary photographers, focusing on the artistic legacies of Edward Weston and his son Brett Weston. Her articles appeared in many photography books and journals from 1949 through 2003. Her skill in literary criticism was highlighted in her chapter on the novelist Pearl S. Buck in the 1968 book American Winners of the Nobel Literary Prize .

Pearl S. Buck American writer

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck was an American writer and novelist. As the daughter of missionaries, Buck spent most of her life before 1934 in Zhenjiang, China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the United States in 1931 and 1932 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces". She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Nobel Prize in Literature One of the five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Literature is a Swedish literature prize that is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Though individual works are sometimes cited as being particularly noteworthy, the award is based on an author's body of work as a whole. The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize. The academy announces the name of the laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. It was not awarded in 2018, but two names will be awarded in 2019.

Some of her most popular photographic works include:

Her black and white portraits include those of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Brett Weston.

The West Coast Photographic Movement

Famous photographic artists of this Movement (also known as Straight photography) took a realistic approach to imagery. They created sharp-focus photographs of natural American Western objects and scenery, skillfully composing with subtleties of tone, light and texture. This approach was entirely radical. From 1910 to the early 1930s, the dominant style was East Coast Pictorialism in which objects were shot with haze and gauze to purposely blur the image for a soft-focus effect. The aim was to mimic Impressionist paintings. With the emerging West Coast Movement, photography no longer imitated painting and developed as a separate art form. The new movement spread like wildfire in the 1950s as the West Coast artists championed the use of natural environmental forms and clarity of detail—very novel concepts at the time.

Pictorialism photography movement

Pictorialism is an international style and aesthetic movement that dominated photography during the later 19th and early 20th centuries. There is no standard definition of the term, but in general it refers to a style in which the photographer has somehow manipulated what would otherwise be a straightforward photograph as a means of "creating" an image rather than simply recording it. Typically, a pictorial photograph appears to lack a sharp focus, is printed in one or more colors other than black-and-white and may have visible brush strokes or other manipulation of the surface. For the pictorialist, a photograph, like a painting, drawing or engraving, was a way of projecting an emotional intent into the viewer's realm of imagination.

Impressionism 19th-century art movement

Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles. Impressionism originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s.

Dody's close friends and colleagues were pioneers of realistic photography as well as contemporary artists: Minor White, Charis Wilson (second wife of Edward Weston and the famous model of his nude photographic work), Paul Strand, Dorothea Lange, Wynn Bullock, Don Ross, Ruth Bernhard, Willard Van Dyke, Nata Piaskowski, Beaumont Newhall and Nancy Newhall, and artists Georgia O'Keeffe, Morris Graves and Jean Charlot and his wife Zohmah Charlot.

Minor White American photographer

Minor Martin White was an American photographer, theoretician, critic and educator. He combined an intense interest in how people viewed and understood photographs with a personal vision that was guided by a variety of spiritual and intellectual philosophies. Starting in Oregon in 1937 and continuing until he died in 1976, White made thousands of black-and-white and color photographs of landscapes, people and abstract subject matter, created with both technical mastery and a strong visual sense of light and shadow. He taught many classes, workshops and retreats on photography at the California School of Fine Arts, Rochester Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, other schools, and in his own home. He lived much of his life as a closeted gay man, afraid to express himself publicly for fear of loss of his teaching jobs, and some of his most compelling images are figure studies of men whom he taught or with whom he had relationships. He helped start and for many years was editor of the photography magazine Aperture. After his death in 1976, White was hailed as one of America's greatest photographers.

Charis Wilson American model

Helen Charis Wilson, was an American model and writer, most widely known as a subject of Edward Weston's photographs.

Paul Strand American photographer

Paul Strand was an American photographer and filmmaker who, along with fellow modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, helped establish photography as an art form in the 20th century. His diverse body of work, spanning six decades, covers numerous genres and subjects throughout the Americas, Europe, and Africa.


Early life and work (1923–44)

Dody—a childhood nickname that she adopted on her own—was born Dora Harrison on April 11, 1923 in New Orleans. Both her parents were early influences on her later career. Abraham Harrison's profession as a filmmaker offered Dody her first introduction to the sights, sounds and smells of film processing. Known as Harry Harrison, he was first a minor league ball player, then a newspaper photographer and finally a producer of the famous Fox Movietone News, the short news and sports newsreels that played from 1928 until 1963 in theaters before the feature films.

Movietone News is a newsreel that ran from 1928 to 1963 in the United States. Under the name British Movietone News, it also ran in the United Kingdom from 1929 to 1979.

Hilda Rosenfield Harrison, a professional woman, was an artist at heart and surrounded herself with creative friends from the famous French Quarter of New Orleans. After Hilda’s divorce from Harry, Dody always viewed her mother as a strong role model—independent, appreciating the arts, and working hard to earn a living.

While a teen in New Orleans, Dody was exposed to Pictorialism. Among her mother's circle of associates was the experimental and avant-garde photographer Clarence John Laughlin. His art displayed a strong Impressionistic style. Fourteen-year-old Dody was frequently pressed into service as a model as well as an assistant to carry his props and camera equipment. Laughlin's photos were considered unique because they were often posed in New Orleans graveyards—beautiful but macabre. One of his most famous works depicts the surreal face of Dody hidden behind a half-mask above a cemetery. [2] [3]

Exposure to and experience in the arts

Dody's early passions were acting, English literature and poetry. Her acting career began at the age of three when Hilda recognized her daughter's talents, enrolling her in a children's theater group that toured public schools for the next 10 years. At the beginning of World War II when Dody was a teenager, she appeared in many stage plays in New Orleans and was always the standout in theater reviews. She had found an early creative niche.

Dody was an eye-catching beauty—the quintessential starlet—tall, willowy, strikingly large blue eyes, with a graceful manner and movement. All who knew her as a young woman predicted she'd be a shining Broadway star. The many outstanding reviews of her acting led to a summer scholarship for Dody with the New London Theatre in New Hampshire. To round out her East Coast experience, she also trained in radio at a station in Springfield, Connecticut, voice work to complement her extensive acting background.

Dody's gift for seeing the simple beauties of nature traces back to those summer theater months in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Raw, untamed vistas left a permanent impression on the young woman and on her future career as a photographer. Dody went on to develop her other artistic skills as a drama and poetry major at Sophie Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans in 1940.

At her mother's urging, Dody transferred to the innovative Black Mountain art college in rural, majestic North Carolina, where she was a student from 1941-1943. She took advantage of this unique artistic opportunity and enjoyed the freedom of creativity that underscored the Black Mountain experience.

Many of the school's faculty members were men and women who founded the revolutionary Bauhaus Movement in Berlin. Bauhaus was characterized by classical, unadulterated, pure structure. Colors stressed were black, white, gray and beige. Simplicity and functionality were the by-words. And, in the breathtaking hills of North Carolina, she was once again immersed in pure nature. Dody plunged herself into new ways of seeing simplicity through the various art mediums to which she was exposed.

Becoming a photographer (1944–49)

Dody decided to marry her Tulane love Bill Diffenderfer in 1944. The couple left New Orleans and headed to San Francisco where he was stationed during World War II. Dody's goal at this point was to find a way to earn a living in an unfamiliar environment.

Characterizing herself as “an escaped Southerner,” she landed—with an introduction by her mother—a position in San Francisco as a researcher-writer for the West Coast Office of War Information. Dody credits this job for her ability to synthesize tremendous amounts of dry data into striking and fluid artistic words. This skill became characteristic of her later writing.

She also worked as a freighter riveter at the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California across the Bay from San Francisco. Fortuitously, photographers Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange were hired by Fortune Magazine in 1944 to photo-document a 24-hour sequence of the workers at the shipyards. While leaving her shift one afternoon, she noticed a man “capering under a black camera cloth and a big camera on a tripod.” Years later, while working for Ansel, she saw his photograph of a throng of women descending the steps of the shipyard and recognized her own face among the crowd.

In 1946, Dody's war-time marriage unraveled and she divorced. She married a second time, also in 1946, to artist Philip Warren. Unfortunately, Warren became deeply committed to a San Francisco religious movement. She had to decide to either embrace this group or leave the marriage. The couple separated and Dody found a place of her own in San Francisco and began to explore her next step in life.

Naturally drawn to the arts, Dody attended an Edward Weston retrospective organized by Beaumont and Nancy Newhall for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in early 1946. She became absolutely transfixed with the imaginative, naturalistic style of the nascent West Coast photographic trend. Dody subsequently discovered Edward's book California and the West (1940). She determined to learn the craft to which she had been exposed as a young girl.

She then sought out Edward Weston in 1947 at the age of 24. While on summer vacation, she drove from San Francisco to the beach near his studio home in Carmel, contemplating how she would possibly summon the nerve to contact him. In her own words in a private journal, she wrote, “I had been given courage. Before it could ebb, I found a public phone and dialed”—and she reached Edward himself. [4] Intrigued by their common interest in photography, Edward asked Dody to meet with him in an hour.

After she arrived at his surprisingly modest bluff-side studio, he showed her, according to Dody's memoirs, print after print of his platinum-developed photographs. Years later she would write privately, “I had never seen anything like these photographs. A wonderful quality of light emanated from them. Some glowed like pearls, some glittered diamond-sharp. Aside from their subject matter, they could be enjoyed solely for this.” Dody described this meeting as “my first stunning lesson in photography.” [5]

Weston mentioned he had just that morning written a letter to Ansel Adams, looking for someone seeking to learn photography in exchange for carrying his bulky large-format camera and to provide a much needed automobile. Edward was developing Parkinson's disease and the physical demands of the profession were difficult for him. This was the era of heavy, wooden large format view cameras with their accompanying tripods, lenses, cut film, film holders, filters and cleansers—all toted around in the field. Dody had a thirst for photography, she had the strong body to carry equipment, and she had driven to Carmel in her own car. There was a swift meeting of creative minds. For the remainder of 1947 through the beginning of 1948, Dody commuted from San Francisco on weekends to learn from Weston the basics of photography.

Edward encouraged Dody to become a portrait photographer to generate revenue for herself, which he himself had done in his early career. She opened a small studio in San Francisco and her solid portraiture work launched her reputation as a photographer.

In early 1948, she moved into “Bodie House,” the guest cottage named after its wood stove at Edward's Wildcat Hill compound, as his full-time assistant. [6] [7] Dody helped Edward in the darkroom and she learned the essential skill of spotting his prints — a process to remove imperfections from photographs, rendering them flawless. On Edward's advice, she acquired her own camera—a wooden Agfa Ansco large format 5”X7” view camera—and began to photograph the panoramic Carmel coast and its subtle intricacies.

In 1949, her reputation caught the attention of Ansel Adams. She assisted the famed photographer for a year during a photographic expedition in Yosemite National Park and then at his studio in San Francisco. Dody learned his celebrated Zone System—his systematic method for precisely defining the relationship between the way the photographer visualizes the photographic subject (determining film exposure) and the final product (development of the film). She also observed how Ansel greatly improved the standards of print reproduction.

After Dody's experience in Ansel's studios, she returned to Wildcat Hill. Many famous and cutting-edge photographers, artists and poets gathered there around Edward Weston's lively dinner table. [8]

Later, Dody created a photographic collection complementing the verse of Emily Dickinson, her favorite poet. Though unpublished, this body of work serves as an homage to Dody's love of poetry and showcases her ability to marry photography with text.

Career turning point (1949)

Nineteen forty-nine was a professionally pivotal year for Dody. She was invited to artistically participate with the remaining members of the prestigious organization Group f/64. The group was an association of San Francisco Modernist artists who spearheaded straight photography. Founded in 1932 by William Van Dyke and Ansel Adams, Ansel suggested the group's moniker because f/64 is the lens setting that allows every feature in an image to be sharply focused.

Dody's early camera work then began to be exhibited, purchased and represented in a number of museums and private collections, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1949) and the Chicago Institute of Design (1950).

Dody was the last of Edward Weston's photographic assistants and remained very close to him during the final 11 years of his life as he struggled with his Parkinson's. The final photographs Edward Weston ever took were of a close-up of beach stones, teasingly subtitled "Dody Rocks", and of a portrait of Dody against boulders, at Point Lobos, California (1948). [9] [10]

Writing and impact on art history

Weston recognized Dody's considerable writing talent and entrusted her to craft the preface to My Camera on Point Lobos in 1949, launching her prolific writing career. [11] He also asked her to edit for this publication portions of his famous Day Books—his intimate journals detailing his evolving photography and comments on his close personal relationships (1950).

Dody was as well a co-founder of the famous journal Aperture , a high-quality magazine for the professional photographer, showcasing the finest images and profiling the field's most acclaimed artists. [12] After two years of preparation, the first issue debuted in Spring, 1952 with Dody as a contributing writer.

The periodical was named for the size of the opening in a camera lens that determines how much light reaches the film. Numerical settings printed on the barrel of the lens, when selected, change the size of the lens opening; this is known as aperture. The higher the number, the more the scene is in focus. Depth of field is thus controlled and enables manipulation of how the scene is captured.

Dody continued to write extensively on the topics of photography and fine arts (see bibliography). Famous photographer Paula Chamlee admires Dody's gifted writing style and notes that Dody's published works “have added to the history of photography in a very meaningful and significant way.” [13]

Marriage to Brett Weston (1952)

Theodore Brett Weston (1911–1993) developed a more abstract polish to his photographic craft. He served in the Signal Corps in New York during World War II and returned afterward to Carmel to live, first at Wildcat Hill and later in 1948 at Garrapata Canyon (10 miles south of Wildcat Hill), to work in his father's darkroom and to pursue his own photography. He and Dody grew to know each other as they worked on photographic projects and enjoyed family meals together. Understanding how fond Edward was of Dody, Brett kept at first a respectful distance, but by March 1950 Dody and he were dating and Dody moved to Brett's home at Garrapata Canyon.

In 1951, Ansel asked Dody and Brett to work with the Polaroid Corporation's Artist Support Program to test its latest self-developing camera, the Polaroid 95 Land Camera and Type 40 film. This first instant camera produced sepia-tone prints that developed in one minute. The couple embarked on a photographic safari from California to New York. Their resulting work was the basis of advertisements for the camera, appearing in many contemporary popular magazines.

Having the experience of working well together, the road trips continued to great success. They both took some of their best photos in the White Sands of New Mexico in 1952. Dody photographed Brett in the Dunes during that trip. They also shot in Carmel Valley that year. The couple collaborated on several projects and complemented each other—his photographs and her well-penned commentary.

Edward Weston was steadily declining in health due to Parkinson's disease and was unable to gather 100 of his best prints for his 50th Anniversary Portfolio in 1952. Dody helped produce 8,250 prints from Edward's prime 825 negatives for this collection. [14] On the front endpaper of Dody's copy of the 50th Anniversary Portfolio, Edward affectionately wrote, "To Dody-who printed & sweated & spotted, so that this Portfolio becomes her Portfolio-Love always-Edward."

Dody and Brett eventually married at Point Lobos in Carmel, California on December 6, 1952. [15] Even though Dody became known professionally as Dody Weston after marrying Brett, she chose to sign her work simply “Dody”. Dody later described how difficult it was for she and Brett to survive as creative artists, "We never knew where the next pot of beans was coming from, but it always appeared."

Photography career builds (1953–55)

Dody's photographic career ignited in 1952 when she was one of the two photographic winners of the prestigious Albert M. Bender Award (known informally in the West as the “Little Guggenheim”), which financed a year's work in photography. [16] She was the second photographer to win the award other than Ansel Adams, who received the honor in 1946. Dody chose as her focus to photo-document Edward's creative environment in Carmel as well as the unique home and surroundings of close friend and edgy West Coast painter Morris Graves.

In 1954–55, she and photographer Nata Piaskowski were curators for the ground-breaking exhibit titled Perceptions—a gallery exposition organized by a San Francisco Bay area photographer's collective. The show was sponsored by the San Francisco Museum of Art. Famed architect and photographer Donald Ross designed this artistic project. Perceptions went on to display at the Smithsonian Institution and abroad.

Unfortunately, Dody's marriage to Brett became unsatisfying by 1955 and she moved to Los Angeles. After an attempt at reconciliation in early 1956, their divorce was final by 1957. Dody's move to Southern California became permanent and she searched for a creative project. She found employment as a documentary consultant, researcher, writer and crew member with Hollywood producer Lou Stoumen from 1956 to 1960.

Her screen credits include a Motion Picture Academy Award-nominated documentary The Naked Eye (1956), highlighting Edward's work. [17] She also gained recognition for Stouman’s Documentary Short Subject Oscar-winner The True Story of the Civil War (1957), which extensively used still photographs by famous Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

South Seas voyage (1958)

In 1958, she signed on for an exciting opportunity aboard the actor Sterling Hayden's schooner Wanderer as a filmmaker's assistant. Hayden, in the middle of a very nasty public divorce, made headlines by taking two of his four children on the voyage, contrary to court orders. The crew sailed from San Francisco Bay to Tahiti, where Hayden had planned to film a movie.

Now in her mid-thirties, she took with her to Tahiti a smaller light-weight, hand-held camera (likely her Yashica Copal Yashicaflex TLR), which she used with less frequency until 1977, and added color film to her photographic repertoire. Her South Seas folio is replete with fascinating photographs of the Wanderer, on-deck photos of life aboard the ship, colorful prints of Tahitian women and children, and of unique artifacts on shore.

The film did not materialize, however, and according to Dody's notes U.S. Camera printed her photographs of paradise in 1961. Dody continued to shoot black and white photography through 1966. She was also tapped to write a chapter on famous novelist Pearl Buck for American Winners of the Nobel Literary Prize, published in 1968. [18]

Color photography (1970s–1991)

Dody's career in color photography was of necessity. “My body decreed: carry no weight. It was going to be a 35mm camera or nothing. I had to change my standards, or give up photography. I even chose a camera among the many brands whose ground lens most nearly approximated the look of those in larger cameras.”

She eventually selected the Olympus 35mm, which became her constant companion throughout her later years. The hand-held camera was “designed for action. But I held to the way that I took joy in seeing... and it was not until I arrived in Venice – vulnerable, rotting, splendid Venice — that I finally succumbed to the seductions of color... color bold; color subtle, nuanced; a veritable paint pot of color.”

Some of the most splendid of her color photographs are of the famous gondolas on the Grand Canal in Venice. In a personal note in her journal she kept while in Italy (1977), she wrote, “I specially fell for the gondolas, not as a craft, but as objects d'art ...pieces of sculpture”... and she captured them exquisitely. [19]

Her travels to Hawaii, Italy, France, Mexico and Japan allowed her to produce some of her most famous color photographs.

Partnership with Daniel M. Thompson (1960–2008)

Early in 1958, before Dody left for the South Pacific, she met Daniel Michel Thompson, an aerospace company executive, sculptor and painter, and environmental writer. Mutual friends had invited them to a dinner party in Los Angeles and they discovered their personalities and interests were compatible. It was difficult for her to decide to depart for Tahiti and be separated from Dan. They dated for two years and then married in November, 1960. A great partnership ensued and Dan helped research and edit her writings over the next 40 years.

During this phase of her career, her photography was known under the professional name of Dody Weston Thomson. Dody contributed to a 1965 article in Aperture Monograph edited by Nancy Newhall: Edward Weston, Photographer. [20] Her major written work was her personal recollection of Edward Weston entitled “Edward Weston: A Memoir” published in the Canadian journal, Malahat Review, in 1970 and in 1972. [21] [22]

As the couple's circle of friends and family grew, Dody developed a reputation for her red-hot Louisiana gourmet cooking skills, rooted in her Southern childhood. She and Dan hosted many memorable dinners at their Los Angeles home.

Later years: writing, lecturing and exhibiting (1980–2006)

As Dody matured, the physical rigors of active photographic expeditions were too difficult to undertake and her professional career shifted to writing, exhibiting and lecturing. Dody spent her last active decades exhibiting her photographs, working on documentary projects, writing about photography and about the legacy of Edward Weston, and lecturing at numerous colleges, art museums and fine arts institutions.

Dody took her final black-and-white photograph in 1966 and her last color photograph of wet kelp on a tide pool rock at Point Lobos in 1997. Her final exhibit and public speaking engagement was at Los Angeles Valley College in 2006 as part of the retrospective Perceptions, Bay Area Photography, 1945-1960 curated by Dennis Reed. Dody gave the opening lecture and her image White Dune No. 1 was displayed as part of the show. Reed reports that Dody was instrumental in helping him develop the installation. Thus, Dody's career extended 59 years (1947-2006).

The most significant article she wrote during this time period was “West Coast ‘50s” about the West Coast Photographic Movement, which was published in Exposure Magazine in 1981. [23] Her final article reflecting on the lasting contribution of Edward Weston appeared in Weston: Life Work (2003).

Of all the many symposiums in which she participated, the most significant was the May, 1998 panel in San Francisco, "Through Another Lens: A Historical and Critical Look at California Arts Photography in the 1930s & 1940s". This stellar forum included Dody, Charis, Cole (Edward Weston's youngest son) Rondal Partridge (son of photographer Imogen Cunningham) and Seema Weatherwax (former assistant to Ansel Adams).

In 2006 she received a Certificate of Recognition from the California State Legislative Assembly for her contribution to the fine arts, to the history of photography and as a founder of Aperture magazine.

Comments by other photographers

Contemporary photographer Merg Ross, son of photographer Don Ross, commented on Dody's two careers in both black and white and color photography. He calls her black and white photos "her jewels in the crown... the subtle, delicate, well-composed strong images." [24] Ross's favorite is her black and white composition of pine cones in a pond entitled High Sierra Pool (Yosemite, 1950): "The tones of the pine cones showed her skill as a technician and her mastery of technique." [24]

Rondal Partridge, son of famous photographer Imogen Cunningham, summarized Dody as being "the most focused person I had ever met. She was quick-thinking; she knew the 'who, what, when and where' of photographic composition and she knew where the rainbow was... and she went after it." [25]

Famous husband and wife photographers Michael A. Smith and Paula Chamlee remember Dody's keen way of looking at photographs. [26] Smith met her in 1975 before his work became recognized. Dody looked carefully at his prints in a deep, thoughtful way and said they were good but something was missing. She detected the print quality was lacking because of the photographic paper he was using. He took her advice, started using different print paper and there was a significant change in his success.

Craft of photography in her own words

As for Dody's approach to the craft, she reflects in her personal papers (1980s):

I have always approached photography as an artist. The first thing I learned about photography was that it is seeing---pre-visioning---with the eye and not the apparatus of the camera. Anyone can learn the basic mechanics first, but then you experiment. Photograph what you know to begin, but try to look, to see with a fresh eye. Images are everywhere around us---in our own backyard. I like finding rather than accumulating (staging the arrangement of what is photographed)--like an eternal treasure hunt of the eye.” [27]

Dody was initially influenced by black and white photography—and it was her first love. As she mastered her darkroom developing skills, she reports in her journals:

I had never realized that this virtually infinite variety of intermediate shades of black and white constituted a unique phenomenon...not to be found in any other medium in the entire history of art...this scale of greys which the skilled photographer---never mind the appearance of the original subject---can expand or contract like an accordion of unknown but variable length pretty much at will.” [27]


In the many interviews with Dody and with family members it is clear that the freedom to explore her creativity, to share her insights with the world and to encourage young people to hone their creative skills were the themes of her life. Those who knew her describe her as a gifted and master transmitter of what is captured in the eye and lens. Dody would describe this process as magically translating her vision onto plain white photographic paper.

Dody passed at her residence in Los Angeles, California on October 14, 2012 at 8:30am. She was 89. [1] [28]

In August 2013, the Thompson Family Trust donated 491 original black-and-white and color prints of Dody's photography and her document archive to Scripps College, Claremont, California. In September 2014, the Thompson Family Trust donated 234 original black-and-white and color prints of Dody's photography to the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ. In September 2016, Helen Harrison donated approximately 150 distinct black-and-white and color prints of Dody's photography, along with copies, to the Inland Empire Museum of Art in San Bernardino County, California.


During her career, Dody worked with several cameras.

Large Format:
Agfa 4 X 5

Medium Format:
Copal 2 ¼ X 3 ¼
Zenza Bronica 6 X 4.5, 6 X 6 & 6 X 7 cm
Polaroid 95 Land Camera
Yashicaflex TLR

Small Format:
Olympus 35mm
Yashica Copal

General data

Notable portrait models


Most popular photographic works
Published photographs
Solo exhibitions
Group Exhibitions
Photographs in public collections
Guest Curator
Publication credits

Weston: Life Work. Photographs from the Collection of Judith G. Hochberg and Michael P. Mattis, Sarah M. Lowe and Dody Weston Thompson, Lodima Press, First Edition, 2003

Production credits

Awards and honors

Articles and videos

Published articles and produced videos about Dody Weston Thompson

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Nancy Wynne Newhall was an American photography critic. She is best known for writing the text to accompany photographs by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, but was also a widely published writer on photography, conservation, and American culture.

Cole Weston American photographer

Cole Weston was Edward Weston's fourth and youngest son. Although Weston "was born into the tradition of craftsman- produced black-and-white art photography, he was to find his own photographic direction in colour.".

Tōyō Miyatake American photographer

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Kim Weston (photographer) American photographer

Kim Weston is an American photographer known for his fine art nude studies.

John Sexton is an American fine art photographer who specializes in black and white photographs.

Sonya Noskowiak American photographer

Sonya Noskowiak was an American photographer and member of the famous San Francisco photography collective Group f/64 that included Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

Alma Ruth Lavenson was an American photographer of the first half of the 20th century. She worked with and was a close friend of Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston and other photographic masters of the period.

Carol Henry is an American fine art photographer and curator.

C. Cameron Macauley Photographer, filmmaker, educator

Charles Cameron Macauley was a photographer, filmmaker and educator noted for his prize winning still photographs, his ethnographic films and his expertise on historic films and photographs. His career spanned over 75 years.

Morley Baer American photographer

Morley Baer, an American photographer and teacher, was born in Toledo, Ohio. Baer was head of the photography department at the San Francisco Art Institute, and known for his photographs of San Francisco's "Painted Ladies" Victorian houses, California buildings, landscape and seascapes.

Fred R. Archer American photographer

Fred Robert Archer, was an American photographer who collaborated with Ansel Adams to create the Zone System. He was a portrait photographer, specializing early in his career in portraits of Hollywood movie stars. He was associated with the artistic trend in photography known as pictorialism. He later became a photography teacher, and ran his own photography school for many years.

Margaret W. Weston, known as "Maggi", is an American photography collector and promoter who started one of the first commercial art galleries in the United States devoted solely to photography.

Liliane de Cock Belguim born US phographer

Liliane de Cock Morgan was a Belgian-born American photographer who won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1972, and was assistant to Ansel Adams.

John Bertolino was an American photojournalist who photographed in Italy and the United States and was active in the 1950s and 1960s.


  1. 1 2 3 "Dody Thompson Obituary: View Dody Thompson's Obituary by Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2013-01-08.
  2. Aperture Monograph, “Clarence John Laughlin,” Aperture, New York, NY, 1973, pp. 49, 59.
  3. Davis, Keith F., Clarence John Laughlin: Visionary Photographers, Hallmark Cards, Kansas City, MO, pp. 28, 75, 91, 100, 113.
  4. Personal Notes of Dody Weston Thompson, 6 pages, undated, page 3
  5. Personal Notes of Dody Weston Thompson, 6 pages, undated, page 4
  6. Murray, Joan, “The Golden Haired Prince” (profile of Brett Weston), American Photographer, April 4, 1980, pp. 44-53.
  7. a personal selection.html?id=OBauAAAACAAJ
  8. Cameron Macauley, 7 Portraits of Photographers at Wildcat Hill, 1949
  9. Conger, Amy, The Monterey Photographic Tradition: The Weston Years, Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art Association, Monterey, CA, 1981, p. 58
  10. Travis, David, Edward Weston: The Last Years in Carmel, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 2001, pp. 49-50.
  11. Travis, David, Edward Weston: The Last Years in Carmel, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 2001, p. 44
  12. and Peter Marshall, “Minor White-A Spiritual Journey”-- references Dody Warren as a founder of Aperture.
  13. Interview with photographer Paula Chamlee, January, 2012
  14. Abbott, Brett, In Focus: Edward Weston: Photographs From the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Publications, 2005, p. 145.
  15. Center for Creative Photography, Edward Weston: Color Photography, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, 1986, p. 30.
  16. (Montana Public Assistance Bureau Architect and Engineer, Vol. v.188-191, 1952, p. 51 of 76)
  17. "The Naked Eye (1957) - Overview". 1957-04-21. Retrieved 2013-01-08.
  18. [ dead link ]
  19. Monterey Museum of Art for “The Photographs of Dody Weston Thompson Exhibit,” Carmel, California, April 30, 1997, p. 16
  20. Aperture Monograph, “Edward Weston, Photographer,” Newhall, Nancy, ed., Rochester, NY, 1965, p. 86.
  21. Brett Weston: Photographs From Five Decades, Aperature, Millerton, New York, 1980, p. 129.
  22. Quinn, Karen E., & Theodore E. Stebbins, Weston’s Westons: California and the West, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, 1994, p. 146.
  23. Thompson, Dody, “West Coast ‘50s”, Exposure Magazine, 18: 1981, pp. 6-14.
  24. 1 2 Interview with Merg Ross, son of photographer Don Ross, January, 2012
  25. Interview with Rondal Partridge, son of photographer Imogen Cunningham, January, 2012
  26. Interview with Paula Chamlee and Michael A. Smith, photographers, January, 2012
  27. 1 2 Personal notes of Dody Weston Thompson for Basics in Photography lecture notes, Undated, 1980s
  28. "BBC News - Photographer Dody Weston Thompson dies aged 89". 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2013-01-08.
  29. iPad iPhone Android TIME TV Populist The Page (2012-12-26). "In Memoriam: Photographers Who Died in 2012 - LightBox". Retrieved 2013-01-08.
  30. JOSEF WOODARD (2000-02-06). "Familiar Images". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-01-08.
  31. "Issue No. 37". Black & White Magazine. Novato, CA: Ross Periodicals. June 2005. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  32. "Exposures: The History of American Landscape Photography". 2007-01-26. Retrieved 2013-01-15.
  33. "Associate Insights: The Collection of Dody Weston Thompson on Vimeo". 2012-03-06. Retrieved 2013-01-08.