The Legacy of Sol Worth

Sol Worth & Annenberg Professor Larry Gross - 1976

From the year of its founding, 1959, the Annenberg School for Communication has had an enduring commitment to combining theory and practice in visual communication. The School's visual research program and its production laboratories were established by Sol Worth (1922-1977), who taught its first visual courses as a part-time lecturer and became a full-fledged member of the faculty in 1964. Before coming to Annenberg, Worth had had a highly successful 16-year career in commercial photography and film making, and he had also created an award-winning documentary film, Teatteri (1957), which was chosen for the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Worth's background as a producer of visual media played a major role in his subsequent research and teaching, and, to this day, the integration of production experience into theory and research remains a common feature of visual studies at Annenberg.

Sol Worth's major publication during his lifetime was Through Navajo Eyes: An Exploration in Film Communication and Anthropology (Indiana University Press, 1972). Co-authored with anthropologist John Adair, this book was a report of a ground-breaking experiment: In the summer of 1966, Worth taught the techniques of film-making to a group of young men and women from the Navajo Nation who had had minimal previous exposure to film. Worth and Adair then analyzed the visual structure of the resulting films in relation to the young film-makers' culture. This study exemplifies the distinctive character of Worth's approach to visual studies: a focus on the "language" of visual media (visual composition, camera angles, editing techniques, etc.) and an interest in the interplay between scholarly knowledge and technical expertise. This focus has had a long-term impact on visual scholarship at Annenberg and is reflected in the work of several generations of the School's faculty and students.