Front / Recto

  • Title Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio
  • Negative Date October 1922
  • Print Date 1922
  • Medium Palladium print
  • Dimensions Image 9 1/16 × 6 7/8" (23 × 17.4 cm)
  • Place Taken Middletown
  • Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
  • MoMA Accession Number 1903.2001
  • Copyright © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents.
  • Description

    In Edward Weston’s journals, which he began on his trip to Ohio and New York in fall 1922, the artist wrote of the exhilaration he felt while photographing the “great plant and giant stacks of the American Rolling Mill Company” in Middletown, Ohio.[1] He then went to see the great photographer and tastemaker Alfred Stieglitz. Were he still publishing the magazine Camera Work, Stieglitz told him, he would have reproduced some of Weston’s recent images in it, including, in particular, one of his smokestacks. The photograph’s clarity and the photographer’s frank awe at the beauty of the brute industrial subject seemed clear signs of advanced modernist tendencies.

    In moving away from the soft focus and geometric stylization of his recent images, such as Attic of 1921 (MoMA 1902.2001), Weston was discovering a more straightforward approach, one of considered confrontation with the facts of the larger world much like that of his close friend Johan Hagemeyer, who was photographing such modern subjects as smokestacks, telephone wires, and advertisements. Shortly before his trip east, Weston had met R. M. Schindler, the Austrian architect, and had been excited by his unapologetically spare, modern house and its implications for art and design. Weston was also reading avant-garde European art magazines full of images and essays extolling machines and construction. Stimulated by these currents, Weston saw that by the time he got to Ohio he was “ripe to change, was changing, yes changed.”[2]

    The visit to Armco was the critical pivot, the hinge between Weston’s Pictorialist past and his modernist future. It marked a clear leave-taking from his bohemian circle in Los Angeles and the first step toward the cosmopolitan connections he made in New York and in Mexico City, where he moved a few months later to live with the Italian actress and artist Tina Modotti. The Armco photographs went with him and became talismans of the sea change, emblematic works that decorated his studio in Mexico, along with a Japanese print and a print by Picasso. When he sent a representation of his best work to the Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart in 1929, one of the smokestacks was included.

    In the midst of such transformation, Weston maintained tried-and-true darkroom procedures. He had used an enlarger in earlier years but had abandoned the technique because he felt that too much information was lost in the projection. Instead he increasingly favored contact printing. To make the smokestack print, Weston enlarged his 3 ¼ by 4 ¼ inch (8.3 by 10.8 centimeter) original negative onto an 8 by 10 inch (20.3 by 25.4 centimeter) interpositive transparency, which he contact printed to a second sheet of film in the usual way, creating the final 8 by 10 inch negative. Weston was frugal; he was known to economize by purchasing Platinum and Palladium paper by the roll from Willis and Clements in England and trimming it to size. He exposed a sheet of palladium paper to the sun through the negative and, after processing the print, finished it by applying aqueous Retouching media to any flaws. The fragile balance of the photograph’s chemistry, however, is evinced in a bubble-shaped area of cooler tonality hovering over the central stacks.[3] The print was in Modotti’s possession at the time of her death in Mexico City, in 1942.

    —Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg

    [1] Edward Weston, The Daybooks of Edward Weston, vol. 1, Mexico, ed. Nancy Newhall (Rochester, N.Y.: George Eastman House, 1961), pp. 4–8. The purpose of Weston’s trip to Ohio was to visit his older sister, May Seaman, whose husband worked at the Armco plant.

    [2] Ibid., p. 4.

    [3] For more on Weston’s palladium prints and on the chemistry of this print, in particular, see Constance McCabe, “Noble Metals for the Early Modern Era: Platinum, Silver-Platinum, and Palladium Prints,” on this website.

Back / Verso

  • Mount Type No mount - evidence previous mount
  • Marks and Inscriptions Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, center: Armco Steel, Ohio, 1922.
  • Provenance The artist; given to Tina Modotti (1896–1942), Mexico [1]; to Vittorio Vidali (1900–1983); by inheritance to Vidali’s son, Carlos Vidali, 1983 [2]; sold through Sotheby's New York (sale 5176, lot 353) to Allan Frumkin Gallery Photographs Inc. (Carol Ehlers), Chicago, May 8, 1984 [3]; purchased by Thomas Walther, 1984 [4]; given to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
    [1] MacGill/Walther 2001(4), p. 15.
    [2] Ibid; Beth Gates Warren, email to Ksenia Nouril, December 10, 2014.
    [3] Ibid; Warren, email to Nouril.
    [4] Ibid.; and Allan Frumkin Gallery Photographs Inc. invoice, May 11, 1984.


  • Retouch Detail
    Detail aqueous retouching applied with a brush. The area of detail is 9.5 x 15 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Surface Sheen Matte
  • Techniques Retouching (additive)
    Contact print
    Retouching (reductive)
  • PTM
    Detail view of the recto of the artwork made using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) software, which exaggerates subtle surface details and renders the features of the artwork plainly visible. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Micro-raking
    Raking-light close-up image, as shot. Area of detail is 6.7 x 6.7 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Raking-light close-up image, processed. Processing included removal of color, equalization of the histogram, and sharpening, all designed to enhance visual comparison. Department of Conservation, MoMA

Paper Material

  • Format Metric
  • UV Fluorescence Recto negative
    Verso no data
  • Fiber Analysis Rag 83%
    Bast 17%
  • Material Techniques Palladium print
  • XRF

    This work was determined to be a palladium print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.

    The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):

    • Recto: Al, Si, P, Ca, Cr, Mn, Fe, Zn, Pd, Hg
    • Verso: Al, Si, K, Ca, Cr, Mn, Fe, Zn, Hg

    The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).

    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Al, Si, P, K, Ca, Cr, Pd
    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Mn, Fe, Zn, Hg

In Context

Historical Publications

  • Irradiador, no. 3 (October 1923): cover (as Steel).

    Der Welt Spiegel, November 21, 1926, cover (as Phantastik des Alltags, Abzugsschlote einer Fabrik in Ohio, die wie gigantische Orgelpfeifen wirken).

    Armitage, Merle. The Art of Edward Weston, pl. 4 (as Steel). New York: E. Weyhe, 1932.

Historical Exhibitions

  • Los Angeles Museum. Edward Weston/Brett Weston: Photographs (as Steel). October 4–November 2, 1927.

    Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco. Golden Gate International Exposition. 1940.

    The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photographs of Edward Weston (as Armco, Ohio). February 11–March 31, 1946.

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