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A meditative cinepoem from 1929 captures the reflective, ethereal wonders of water

The US photographer and filmmaker Ralph Steiner (1899-1986) is widely considered to be a pioneer of both media, celebrated for his century-spanning work in modernist photography and documentary and avant-garde film. H₂O (1929), his debut short and one of the earliest US art films, is a meditative, visual ode to water in its many forms, focused on the liquid’s various textures and shape-distorting reflective qualities. In a series of static yet dynamic shots, water-spewing pipes and fire hydrants, waterfalls, raindrops, slow-flowing streams, and the shimmering surfaces of near-stagnant bodies appear on screen, with the visuals gradually becoming more abstract as Steiner transitions to closeups of water surfaces. This version of the film features a new original piano score from the Illinois-based composer William Pearson, commissioned by Aeon. H₂O is frequently mentioned alongside another documentary touchstone of the same year: Regen, by the Dutch directors Joris Ivens and Mannus Franken, which celebrates Amsterdam in the rain.

Director: Ralph Steiner

Composer: William Pearson

9 November 2018

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