Seema Aissen Weatherwax

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Seema Aissen Weatherwax (25 August 1905 in Chernigov – 25 June 2006) was a Jewish-Russian-born American photographer.

She was born in Chernigov, then under the Russian Czar, to Avram and Reva Aissen. She was the second of three girls. The family emigrated to England in 1912, then Boston in 1922, where the young Seema Aissen found her first job working in a photofinishing lab. She pursued this craft in Boston, New Jersey, New Mexico, California and Tahiti, but she was 95 when she first exhibited her own photographs to the public.

In Los Angeles in the 1930s she joined the Film and Photo League, began her lifelong work for racial justice, and formed enduring friendships with artists and political activists including Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Woody Guthrie. She assisted Ansel Adams in Yosemite, becoming a close friend of the Adams family. She left Yosemite to marry Jack Weatherwax in 1942, working as a photo technician to support his writing while joining in his left activism in Los Angeles. In 1984 they moved to Santa Cruz, California, where her husband died three weeks after their arrival.

After a year of grieving and contemplation, Seema Weatherwax stepped into public life in her own right. Wanting to share her personal collection of art and photographs, she held benefit shows, joined the NAACP and WILPF, was elected to the boards of those two organizations, and was soon well known in Santa Cruz.

On the eve of her 94th birthday, she decided that she wanted to do two things before she died; print some of her old negatives and have a new love. Having reflected on the reasons for having put her own creative work in the background, she revised her life story, using work created on the margins of the great photography of the mid-twentieth century to step from a conventional women’s role into center stage.

In 2005, Seema Weatherwax had her fifth public show of her photographs, at Special Collections at the University of California at Santa Cruz, then celebrated her 100th birthday and the release of her biography, Seema’s Show: A Life on the Left, by Sara Halprin, published by the University of New Mexico Press.


  • Tapes and transcripts of interviews for the Weatherwax biography are deposited at Special Collections, University of California at Santa Cruz, which also holds the bulk of the Weatherwax collection of photographs. Supplementary photographs from the Weatherwax collection are deposited with Special Collections, Stanford University.
  • Jack Weatherwax's papers are held by the Smithsonian Institution.
  • See an exhibit of some of Seema Weatherwax's photographs.

Further reading[edit]

  • Buhle, P. and E. B. Sullivan, Eds. (1998). Images of American Radicalism. Hanover, MA, The Christopher Publishing House. (includes two photos by Seema Weatherwax)
  • Wilson, C. and W. Madar (1998). Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston. New York, North Point Press, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Halprin, Sara (2005). Seema's Show: A Life on the Left. Albuquerque, New Mexico, The University of New Mexico Press.