Copyright the estate of Edward Weston & 1981 U of Arizona Reagents, published by AMMO 2012
This Edward Weston monograph is a contemporary examination of a Modernist Photographer viewed from today’s perspective. As a photographer of the West Coast (USA) school of photography, Edward Weston (b. 1886 – d. 1958 ) has a legendary presence for those who enjoy and practice the large format, black and white landscape photography. Perhaps unlike Ansel Adams, Weston’s interest extended well beyond this limited stereotype.
Steve Crist, the editor of this book, has thoughtfully brought together a diverse collection of Weston photographs that span his photographic career, including those ranging from the iconic (nudes, shells, green peppers, portraits, and the landscapes of Pacific coastline and the dunes of Death Valley) to the relatively unknown, and a few of those were a surprise to me. Crist has also included those similar images that hover around Weston’s icon images, a narrative that speaks to the creativity and experimentation of an artist. For this book review, I selected Weston images that are perhaps much lesser well known.
Weston had a lifelong interest in photographing the nude and the Nude 1918, below, is one of his lesser known early nudes, a transitional study created in Southern California just prior to his move to Mexico and change in focus, literally. Weston’s subject is both revealed while being cloaked in shadows. A huge departure when compared to the nude (probably his wife Charis) much later in his life while visiting NYC (Nude, NYC, 1941). In this later image, his subject is truncated, but appears to be holding onto the edge of the window sill, while the lamp on the left is a surrogate for both Weston as well as the viewer, who examine the reclining features of the woman. The nude is diminutive in scale to the window above, the shades slightly parted, establishing an external context for the place as well as creating a voyeur effect, able to both look out as well as see in.
Weston created a number of well-known portraits of the artists and intellectuals of his day, as well as his romantic liaisons, including Johan Hagemeyer, Karl Struss, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Manuel Hernandez Galvan, Tina Modotti, and of course, his wife Charis. Of interest to the West coast school of photography is Weston’s portrait of Ansel Adams with his then new 35mm Contax camera in 1936, the camera being held what is now a cliche composition, the view finder and lens in lieu of Adams eyes. It would also appear that Adams is reciprocating by simultaneously photographing Weston.
Wall Scrawls, Hornitos (1940) is a flat, abstraction of patterns, text, shapes, lines and mass, pre-dating the expressionist paintings of Willem de Kooning in the 1950’s and the later 1960’s and 1970’s photographs of Aaron Siskind. Similar to his earlier still life studies in the 1920’s and 1030’s, there is an element of ambiguity, with what is photographed removed from its normal context, the object space flattened, revealed as a visual abstraction.
One aspect of this book that I appreciate is that Crist sequenced the photographs parallel and linear to Weston’s life, making it easier for the viewer to study the changes, shifts and interests that Weston experienced.
The book object is a hefty and thick linen wrapped hardcover book, the black and white photographs classically printed and the plates nicely laid out, one per spread with a facing Weston quote in conjunction with the photographic title. The binding is not robust which allows the printed block to float in the spine, so a little more care is required in the handling of the book, but this is a minor objection to another wise excellent retrospective look at Weston’s body of work. I recommend this book to those who are seeking an overview of Weston’s best photographic work.
by Douglas Stockdale for The Photobook