Willard Van Dyke grew up on a farm in Denver and moved to California when he was twenty-eight. There he was taught photography first by his father and then Edward Weston. He founded the Group F/64 with Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cuningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonra Noskowiak and Henry Swift. Dealing mostly with the abstract and beautiful, it was not until Van Dyke personally felt the effects of the Depression and organized a Shell union that he turned his interest to documenting society through the medium of film. "I left still photography," Van Dyke writes, "because it could not provide the things that I knew films could provide. I was excited and interested in film as a pure medium of expression, but I was more interested in using it for a social end." 1
Barsam writes that as "cinematographer, writer, director, and producer, Willard Van Dyke was a leader among American nonfiction film makers from 1939 when The City forged the link between the politics of Ivens, the poetry of Lorentz, and the nonfiction films of the 1940s." 2 Van Dyke joined Frontier Films, but split with Steiner to finish the production of The City. Van Dyke went on to make over fifty films, including wartime film work for the Foreign Policy Association (The Bridge) and the Overseas Motion Picture branch for the Office of War Information. He also became director of the Department of Film at the New York Museum of Modern Art and established a film program at the State University of New York.
Van Dyke with DeBrie camera during The Children Must Learn.
1Grant, Barry Keith and Jeannette Sloniowski. Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998. (119).
2Barsam, Richard M. Non-Fiction Film: A Critical History. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1973. (166).