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Ralph Steiner collection

Identifier: AG 68

Scope and Contents

This collection consists mainly of motion picture material in the form of 16mm camera originals, prints, A and B rolls, negatives, magnetic tracks, optical tracks, and 1/4 in. magnetic tracks (audiotapes). Steiner's early films — H2O (1929), The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936), The City (1939), and others — are not represented in this collection. The films that make up this collection all date after 1960 and represent his experimental films that examined the motions and rhythms of the natural world. These films are all part of The Joy of Seeing series.

Also included in this collection are outtakes of original and print film which, for Steiner, represented footage not suitable for inclusion in the collection. It was Steiner's hope that these materials would be accessible to qualified film students at the university for use as creative editing projects. There are 90 reels of outtakes varying in length from 100 to 900 ft.

There is a letter from Ansel Adams to Steiner, in which Adams comments on Fred Picker, the zone system, and photographic previsualization. There are tearsheets (in very fragile condition) from PM magazine which document Steiner's tenure as picture editor in the early 1940s.

The collection also contains black-and-white negatives and color transparencies made over the course of Steiner's career. The negatives exist in a variety of formats, including 8x10, 6½x8½, 5x7, 4x5-inch and smaller sheet film, and 6x6cm and 4.5x6cm and 35mm roll film. For the most part these are identified with captions or titles, but few are dated. Many negative sleeves have Steiner's printing instructions inscribed on them.

Of particular interest are negatives made by Steiner as a student at Dartmouth College, circa 1919-1921; negatives from class projects at the Clarence White School of Photography, 1921-1922; work from the summer of 1929 which Steiner spent at Yaddo, the artists' and writers' colony in Saratoga Springs, New York; fragments of Steiner's film Café Universal (1934), made with members of the Group Theater; stills from the making of The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936); and stills by Marion Post Wolcott of Steiner at work on The People of the Cumberland (1937). The bulk of the roll film negatives are from Steiner's later photographic projects and include negatives of clouds, trees, grasses, etc. The cloud photographs were published in the book In Pursuit of Clouds (1985).

The majority of the negatives are original, but there are also many copy negatives and some enlarged cloud negatives. The roll film negatives are generally numbered and lettered, apparently to correspond to various series of images and to give each negative a unique identifying number. Steiner does not seem, however, to have been consistent in his use of these numbering schemes. Negatives that Steiner selected for printing often have their corners cut or their edges notched.

There are a small number of proof prints included in the collection [see Appendix B for a list]. These are primarily on unfixed printing out paper and so are ephemeral. A few of the proofs are on conventional developing out papers.


  • 1921-2002


Language of Materials

Material in English

Conditions Governing Access

To access materials from this collection, please contact

Conditions Governing Access

The negatives in box 12 are currently inaccessible due to renovations in CCP's cold storage facility. Negatives will be accessible once the renovation is complete and the negative boxes have been transferred to the new frozen storage space. The estimated date of availability is mid-year of 2023, although not guaranteed. Please be sure to email with any questions or for updates.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission from the copyright owner (which could be the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates or literary executors) prior to any copyright-protected uses of the collection.

The user agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona, Center of Creative Photography, including its officers, employees, and agents, from and against all claims made relating to copyright or other intellectual property infringement

Biographical Note

Ralph Steiner (1899-1986) was known for his still photography and filmmaking. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio and in 1921 earned a degree in chemistry from Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, where he also began studying photography. He moved to New York City and was enrolled in the Clarence H. White School of Photography between 1921-1922 and worked at the Manhattan Photogravure Company and as a freelance photographer for magazine editorials and advertisements.

Steiner met photographer Paul Strand in 1928 and was encouraged by Strand to join the Film and Photo League in New York. In his photographs, Steiner was influenced by the sharp detail of 1930s photography, as well as pictorialist styles. He also began making films in the late 1920s, including H2O, a short art film, in 1929, moving toward social activism and documentary filmography in the 1930s. Steiner worked alongside Strand as the cinematographer on Pare Lorentz’s 1936 documentary film, The Plow That Broke the Plains, about storms in the Dust Bowl. In 1938 Steiner founded American Documentary Films, Inc. with Willard Van Dyke, with whom he co-directed the social documentary film The City, about New York for the 1939 World’s Fair.

Steiner worked for five years in Hollywood in the 1940s before returning to New York and to freelance and editorial photography and filmography in 1948. During the 1970s he worked on a series of films titled The Joy of Seeing and published a 1978 book on photography, A Point of View. Steiner moved to Vermont in 1970 and began photographing clouds, a pursuit that would last almost 20 years and would take him from Maine to Oaxaca, Mexico. Steiner published a book of these photographs, In Pursuit of Clouds, in 1985, shortly before his death in 1986.


24 Linear Feet

Metadata Rights Declarations

  • License: This record is made available under an Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Creative Commons license.


Papers, negatives, motion picture films and soundtracks, 1921-2002, of Ralph Steiner (1899-1986), photographer, editor, writer, teacher, and filmmaker. Includes correspondence; black-and-white negatives and color transparencies from Steiner's personal and commercial work; tearsheets from PM (newspaper); 16 mm. original and print footage; 16 mm. negatives; 16 mm. magnetic soundtracks; 16 mm. optical tracks; and 1/4 in. magnetic tracks. Film titles include Seaweed, A Seduction (1960); One Man's Island (1969); Glory, Glory (1970-71); A Look at Laundry (1971); Look Park (1973); Beyond Niagara (1975); Slowdown (1975); and Hurrah for Light (1975).


The Collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Series 1: Motion picture materials, n.d., 1960-2002, 7 boxes/6.25 linear feet
  2. Series 2: Outtakes from motion picture materials , n.d., 4 boxes/5 linear feet
  3. Series 3: Correspondence, 1978, 1 box/fraction of a linear foot
  4. Series 4: Tearsheets, 1940-1941, 1 box/1 linear foot
  5. Series 5: Negatives, n.d., 1921-1950, 11 boxes
  6. Series 6: Proof prints, n.d., 1921-1985, 1 box
  7. Series 7: Miscellaneous materials , n.d., 3 boxes
  8. Appendix A: 8x10 negatives
  9. Appendix B: Proof prints

Other Finding Aids

Please visit the CCP website for a more descriptive version of the finding aid, which includes a detailed inventory list.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection began as a gift to the Center for Creative Photography from Ralph Steiner in 1983.

Related Materials

AG 142: Ralph Steiner miscellaneous acquisitions collection


  • Ralph Steiner Is Dead; Was Still Photographer. The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 14 July 1986, Section B, page 6, Accessed 09 September 2020.
  • Ralph Steiner. The J. Paul Getty Museum, J. Paul Getty Trust, Accessed 09 September 2020.
  • Steiner, Ralph. MoCP, Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago,,+Ralph&record=12. Accessed 09 September 2020.

Processing Information

Processed in 1985 by David Peters. Revised in 1988. The finding aid was updated by Paloma Phelps in 2017 and by Tai Huesgen in 2020.

Ralph Steiner collection 1921-2002
Finding aid created by CCP Archives Staff
© 2020
Description rules
Finding Aid Based On Dacs (Describing Archives: A Content Standard)
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid encoded in English

Repository Details

Part of the Center for Creative Photography Archives Repository

1030 N. Olive RD
Tucson Arizona 85721 United States