“Weston is, in the real sense, one of the few creative artists of today. He has recreated the matter-forms and forces of nature; he has made these forms eloquent of the fundamental unity of the work. His work illuminates man’s inner journey toward perfection of the spirit. ” –Ansel Adams, Date Unknown Edward Weston 1886-1958 may seem like he was a confused man in trying to find his photographic goals. Just like many other photographers, both of his time and now, he strove to find what truly satisfied his talent and the acceptance of himself.
He generated something for all photographers. This was success and recognition as a “grand master” of twentieth century photography. This was a legacy that tells an interesting tale; it tells a tale of a thousand plus successful and loved photographs, a daily journal, and a life with its ups and downs and broad dimensions. He was born in Highland Park, Illinois, and thus he was an American photographer. His mother died when he was five, possibly the reason for his skipping out of his schooling. At the age of sixteen 1902, his father bought him a Kodak box camera Bull’s-Eye No. 2.Order now
Soon he was saving money to buy a better 5x& camera with a tripod. Taking photographs interested and obsessed him. He wrote, “I needed no friends now. . . Sundays my camera and I would take long car-rides into the country. . . ” In 1906, two things happened. First, a submission of his was printed in the magazine Camera and Darkroom. This photograph was called simply “Spring”. Secondly, he moved to California to work as a surveyor for San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. From that time on, his interests lied in everything that was unorthodox astrology, the occult, nudism, vegetarianism, etc..
Maybe he never was much of an orthodox type man or photographer. He went back to Illinois for several months to attend the Illinois College of Photography. The inspiration behind this was to show his girlfriend, a daughter of a wealthy land-owner that he’d make money for them. He then headed back to California for good. This lead to marriage in 1909 and to two sons soon afterwards. During this time, Weston also became the founding member of the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles. 1911: Began a portrait studio in Tropico, California. This studio would stay open until 1922.
Also 1911: He started writing articles that were published in magazines. One of these magazines was called American Photographer. His third and fourth sons were born in 1916 and 1919. Weston had always enjoyed photography as an art, but, in 1915, his visit to the San Francisco Panama Pacific Exhibition began a series of events that would lead him to a renouncement of pictorialism. At the exhibition, he viewed abstract paintings. These caused him to vow to capture “the physical quality of the objects he photographed with the sharpest truthfulness and exactitude”.
Thus began a dissatisfaction with his own work. In 1922, he traveled to Ohio and took photographs of the Armco Steel Plant and then went to New York. There he met Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Charles Sheck and Georgia O’Keefe. After that, he renounced pictorialism all together. He often traveled to Mexico during the 1920s, and his photographs included nudes. One of these nudes, named Tina Modotti, would turn into his own personal love affair, breaking up his marriage. He made many photographs in Mexico. Some were published in the book Idols Behind Altars by Anita Brenner.
During this time, he also began to photograph seashells, vegetables and nudes. In 1929, his first New York exhibit occurred at the Alma Reed’s Delphic Studios Gallery and later showed at Harvard Society of Contemporary Arts. His photographs were shown along with the likes of Walker Evans, Eugene Atget, Charles Sheeler, Alfred Stieglitz, and many others. In 1932, he became a Charter member, along with Ansel Adams, of the “Group f/64” Club. The club was also founded that same year. The goal of this club was to “secure maximum image sharpness of both foreground and distance”.
In 1934, Weston vowed to make only unretouched portraits. He strived to be as far away from pictorialism as he could. In 1935, he initiated the Edward Weston Print of the Month Club. He offered photographs for ten dollars each. In 1937, he was awarded the first Guggenheim fellowship. In 1940, a book called California and the West featured his photographs and the text of Charis Wilson his new wife not the nude, Tina Modotti. In 1941, Weston was commissioned by the Limited Editions Club to illustrate a new edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Weston started suffering from Parkinson’s disease in 1946.
That same year the Museum of Modern Art in New York City featured a retrospective of his work; three hundred prints were on display. To sort of sign-off from photographing, Weston went to his favorite photographing spot at Point Lobos. There he would take his last photographs 1948. For the next ten years, he supervised his two sons in the printing of Edward Weston life works. Also, in 1952, he published a Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio. He died in 1958 at his home in Carmel. From his famous studies of the green pepper to his favorite spots at Point Lobos, Weston was mainly concerned in photographing nature.
That’s why his photographs encompassed still-lifes, seashells, tree stumps, eroded rocks, female nudes, landscapes, and other natural forms. His 1936 compilation of photographs of California sand dunes is considered by many to be his finest work. Many feel he brought “regeneration” to photography, and maybe he did. It seems, whether he liked it or not, that pictorialism never left him. No matter how sharp and truthful his photographs became or were, they seemed to always have a pictorial feel. Maybe someday I’ll read through the daily journal he kept, called Daybooks.
It was published, most of it after his death. Maybe then I could get a feel for what Point Lobos meant and what the shapes of the vegetables, seashells, and the rolling dunes meant. Maybe I could understand his obsession with female nudes and their shapes and his brief period of industrial scenes. The tale is told. We’ve seen the photographs, few among thousands. We’ve seen the broad dimensions that encompassed his life. We’ve also seen the journal, his daily “pouring out”. It is indeed a true legacy, a legacy that lives on through the sharp, up close-and personal photographs.