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Seema Aissen Weatherwax

was born in Chernigov, Ukraine in 1905. Her parents emigrated with Seema and her two sisters, Tama and Freda, to Leeds, England, in 1913 to escape the Czarist persecution of Jews. While in Leeds she graduated from high school and began studying science. In 1925, her father, Avram, died and her mother, Reva, took the three sisters to Boston to join relatives.

Seema became interested in photography and began her work in the field as an assistant photo finisher. Always wanting to learn more, she observed and learned the many facets of darkroom work.

Seema, her sister Tama, and her mother drove across the country in 1928 and settled in Southern California where she continued her work in photo finishing. In 1931 Seema decided to join a friend on the island of Moorea in Tahiti. After a few months of island life, she became restless and moved to the port town of Papeete where she began her own business processing film for locals and tourists. While in Tahiti Seema began to study photography seriously.

After returning to Los Angeles she resumed her previous job as a photo finisher. In 1934 she joined the Los Angeles branch of the Film and Photo League and met Chandler Weston, son of photographer Edward Weston. Edward introduced her to Ansel Adams who was in need of a darkroom assistant in Yosemite and Seema began working there in 1938. She spent several seasons processing, photographing, and assisting with workshops and field trips with Ansel in Yosemite.

In 1940, Seema met John M. Jack Weatherwax at a party. They discovered that they had shared interests in many things. She and Jack were subsequently married and spent the next 40+ years in the Los Angeles area gathering an extended family of "adopted" grandchildren, godchidren, and close friends of all ages, ethnicities, and talents that grew throughout their lives.

Both Seema and Jack were political activists. They were concerned about working people and their problems. She and Jack became friends with Woody Guthrie. They organized a benefit party for Dust Bowl refugees at the Shafter Camp near Bakersfield, CA. Woody sang songs and Jack helped. Seema took a number of photographs which became some of her most poignant pictures.

Seema and Jack moved to Santa Cruz in 1984 to "retire" and be close to Tama, but Jack died of cancer just a few weeks later. After a year of grieving, Seema decided that she needed to get back to the activities that were important to her and became involved in local branches of both the Women"s International League for Peace and Freedom WILPF and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP. She was active in both organizations until her death.

Over the years, Seema was honored by a variety of awards and recognitions for her work. As an example, she was awarded Woman of the Year by the California State Assembly in 1999. The first professional exhibit of Seema's photography took place in Aptos in 2000, when she was 95 years old. Several other shows have been mounted with her close friend and associate Jason Weston, great grandson of Edward. The biography "Seema's Show: A Life on the Left" by Sara Halprin was released in August of 2005 to coincide with Seema's 100th birthday celebration.

Seema passed away peacefully on Sunday, June 25, at home and with her family. Her immediate family members include her niece Joy Gonzales; grandniece Linda Gonzales; grandnephew Steven Gonzales; Joy's grandchildren Christopher Gonzales and Nicole Wilcox and husband Zhong Zhen; nephew John R. Weatherwax, his wife Lita, and their daughter Denise; grandniece Fern Weatherwax Still; and grandniece Elena Weatherwax Katzeroff and family. A memorial service will be held at a later date. Place and time are to be determined.


Published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on June 29, 2006
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