Ralph Steiner (1899-1986) was an American photographer and film-maker.
After his 1921 graduation from Dartmouth College, where he learned photography, Steiner moved to New York and studied at the Clarence H. White School of Photography. Though he subsequently criticized its curriculum as too reliant on ‘design, design, design’, Steiner's 1920s commercial photography echoed its emphasis on clean modernist composition. Increasingly socially engaged, Steiner turned to a more realist documentary style. The shift is particularly apparent in his films: his early abstract study of water and light, H2O (1929), scored by Aaron Copland, was followed by documentaries in the 1930s. With Paul Strand and Pare Lorenz, he collaborated on The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936), and with Willard Van Dyke co-directed The City (1939). He joined a series of progressive, anti-fascist organizations for independent film- makers in the 1930s. After wartime military service and five years working for MGM in Hollywood, Steiner returned to art and advertising photography in New York. He always insisted that successful photography required deeply personal interpretations. In later years, in Vermont, he pursued expressive cloud photography.
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