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View Full Version : Is Edward Weston falling "out of favor?"



Bill_1856
8-Feb-2015, 09:36
In my formative years, the photo magazines treated Stieglitz and Steichen like the photoheros to emulate. Then came a period when Gene Smith was revered. Eventually St. Ansel became (and still is) the Gold Standard.
For 20 years I assumed that Edward Weston's place in photography was the Weston Meter, (it turns out there was NO connection).
Then in the 70s when a few photography galleries began to appear, essentially lead by Lee Witkin in NYC, We began to read about and hear of Edward Weston. I bought The Daybooks, and a print of Pepper #30. The Daybooks have been out of print for many years, which is a real pity -- every photographer should read them, as both an inspiration and a warning.
Eventually books about Weston and his life and loves began being written, and seemed to be coming out every month. Anyone who had known or worked with him, particularly Tina Modot, were touted as Great Photographers.

There are "lots" of books of his pictures, but except for the Ben Maddow tome, not much is written. A wonderful picture is painted by his second wife, Charis Wilson, but by then he was failing as an innovator.
Now, it almost seems rare to find him mentioned except as a historical figure.

Kirk Gittings
8-Feb-2015, 09:42
Recognition in the art world goes through cycles like food, fashion etc.

Ken Lee
8-Feb-2015, 10:05
it almost seems rare to find him mentioned

Is there money to be made in mentioning him ?

Randy Moe
8-Feb-2015, 10:17
Is there money to be made in mentioning him ?

Is that cynicism?

Money = Art

Luis-F-S
8-Feb-2015, 10:23
Not just no but HELL NO.

karl french
8-Feb-2015, 10:23
Um, he died in 1958. He is a historical figure.

"West Coast / California" School landscape photography has been out of style in the art world for a while now. He will always be considered a titan in the history of photography (much more so than Adams in my mind.)

The Madlow book is probably the worst biography I've ever read. More like a tabloid that a scholarly work.

The recent Beth Warren book about his time in LA is very well written and fills in many important gaps in his biographical history. Amy Conger never wrote her biography and probably never will.

I'm sure there are still grad students writing dissertations and scholars/historians writing on Weston.

I think the state of favor of a artist in the art word is probably not the best yardstick by which to judge greatness. Considering it is quite fleeting and generally superficial. See Ken's post above.

dsphotog
8-Feb-2015, 10:26
His minimalist technique seems like it would be too easy... Until you try it.

mdarnton
8-Feb-2015, 10:27
I just dug deeply into him a couple of months ago. Truly, we live in a golden age, when the internet gives up what it does, so easily, and then the rest you can buy from Amazon, used, for five bucks + shipping. With those resources so available, perhaps the lack a buzzful contemporary promotion hides a lot of what people actually are looking at.

adelorenzo
8-Feb-2015, 10:53
The recently published Group f.64 book has a healthy dose of Weston.

tgtaylor
8-Feb-2015, 11:06
For 20 years I assumed that Edward Weston's place in photography was the Weston Meter, (it turns out there was NO connection).

Similarly for years I had thought the Editor of Astronomy magazine was the same Robert Burnham, Jr. that authored the 3 volume Burham's Celestial Handbook. An Observers Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System until I discovered that the author of the Celestial Handbook was none other than that bum I had saw frequently sitting on a park bench in Balboa Park selling his art. Very interesting story: http://universalworkshop.com/guysblog/2014/12/01/in-memoriam-robert-burnham-2/

Thomas

djdister
8-Feb-2015, 11:57
Every serious study about the history of great photographers mentions Weston, so I believe your thesis statement is unfounded.

Peter Lewin
8-Feb-2015, 13:02
The OP ends by stating that Weston is rarely mentioned now, except as a historical figure. But that is exactly what Edward Weston is, one of the giants in the history of photography. I would suggest that Rembrandt isn't mentioned much today, except in the context of being a historical figure as well, which certainly doesn't diminish either Weston or Rembrandt.

All arts evolve over time. The current trends in photography (at least as art) seem to favor large color prints, images that take advantage of the technology available in wide-carriage digital printers, digital cameras, and the associated software. In that context, the 8x10 or 11x14 silver (or platinum) print is no longer what one finds on (most) gallery walls, or in any of the "Art" magazines. (I try to attend the annual AIPAD show in NYC, and there are galleries specializing in contemporary work, and galleries specializing in "classic" work, and rarely do the two overlap.) Again, I don't think that diminishes Weston, but it accounts for why he is not spoken about much these days, other than in a "history of photography" context. Or, to keep up my parallel with painting, "traditional" figurative portraiture is no longer "where its at," so many great painters are now regarded as that, "great" but long dead, painters.

Fred L
8-Feb-2015, 13:22
Eventually St. Ansel became (and still is) the Gold Standard.

Not universally, at least imo. I held him high for awhile but eventually felt the Group f/64 idea rather short sighted and too narrow and not where I wanted to go with my photography. Technically he's in the pantheon but I would place other photographers (starting with documentary and photojournalists) above him on my list, which is a a very subjective thing obviously. ymmv

and Kirk's post is spot on...photographers can be at the mercy of powers beyond their control

koh303
8-Feb-2015, 16:30
Um, he died in 1958. He is a historical figure.

"West Coast / California" School landscape photography has been out of style in the art world for a while now. He will always be considered a titan in the history of photography (much more so than Adams in my mind.)

The Madlow book is probably the worst biography I've ever read. More like a tabloid that a scholarly work.

The recent Beth Warren book about his time in LA is very well written and fills in many important gaps in his biographical history. Amy Conger never wrote her biography and probably never will.

I'm sure there are still grad students writing dissertations and scholars/historians writing on Weston.

I think the state of favor of a artist in the art word is probably not the best yardstick by which to judge greatness. Considering it is quite fleeting and generally superficial. See Ken's post above.

This is amazing, and sums up almost everyword i was going to type, probably better then i would have so kodus here +1.

I think the OP was referring to Eugene Smith (not Gene).

The only thing i can add here is that the national endounment for the arts and thus museums, galleries and art critics, had a massive shift post the new topographics show, which changed how the art world treats photography, post Westen, Adams and their peers, pretty much forever, leaving less space for anything, outside of the classical canon of history of photography in the US (which is very different from that of anywhere else in the world). Weston, as a historic figure, is nothing more then a place holder in that canon, and his influence or favor are limited to that aspect of scholarly research and debate.

RSalles
8-Feb-2015, 20:10
This is probably true in USA but not in Europe in general and specially in France it's not. In France, Edward Weston is a reference in photography - as AA.
I'm not sure, but the fact that there isn't a place like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc in Europe didn't attract the same interest in landscape photography as in USA. By the same reason, studio, portraiture, street and photojournalisme were dragging more attention. To counterbalance, experimental photo was deeply developed - Bauhaus with Moholy-Nagi, the American Man Ray with the surrealistes, and many other, an area where the only "word spreading" legend is Minor White. Long story short: if you asked to a French photographer a name of an American photographer until the end of the '80s, 7 in 10 first answers were Edward Weston,

Renato

John Kasaian
8-Feb-2015, 20:29
"Each generation of rebels in turn is remembered by the next, not as pioneers who began the march, or started to break away from old conventions; but as the old convention from which only the very latest rebels have dared to break away."
GK Chesterton, in chapter 32 of All I Survey , London, Methuen & Co, 1933

MIke Sherck
8-Feb-2015, 20:54
"Each generation of rebels in turn is remembered by the next, not as pioneers who began the march, or started to break away from old conventions; but as the old convention from which only the very latest rebels have dared to break away."
GK Chesterton, in chapter 32 of All I Survey , London, Methuen & Co, 1933

Which is as it should be. As Sir Isaac Newton is supposed to have said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Mike

r_a_feldman
8-Feb-2015, 20:55
I think the OP was referring to Eugene Smith (not Gene).

Yes, they are the same person (W. Eugene Smith). Both Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson called him "Gene" (as did Jim Hughes when Camera 35 named him "Our Man of The Year" in 1974), so the OP is not in a bad crowd.

richardman
8-Feb-2015, 22:34
As an admirer of Eugene Smith (I have many of his books), I can attest that he was frequently referred to as "Gene Smith." IMHO, he is one of the greatest documentary photographers ever.

Will Whitaker
9-Feb-2015, 19:42
Edward who??

Mark Sampson
9-Feb-2015, 20:12
If the OP thinks that Edward Weston is 'falling out of favor' he should just research the recent sale prices for a print of 'Pepper #30'. My kudos to him for spending whatever it cost back in the day... it probably seemed like a lot, whenever it was.

Bill_1856
9-Feb-2015, 20:25
If the OP thinks that Edward Weston is 'falling out of favor' he should just research the recent sale prices for a print of 'Pepper #30'. My kudos to him for spending whatever it cost back in the day... it probably seemed like a lot, whenever it was.

It was back in the '70s, and I saw an original print of Pepper #30 in a gallery on Post Street. It was $10,000, and I didn't have $10,000! Later on that trip I bought a Pepper #30 printed by Cole from Maggie Weston, who had just opened her gallery in Carmel. I think that I paid either $50 or $100 (I don't remember which). I also got AA's "Clearing Winter Storm," and "Mt. Williamson" from her -- about $700 as I recall, which cleaned me out.

Merg Ross
9-Feb-2015, 21:38
Edward who??

Edward Henry Weston.

Darin Boville
9-Feb-2015, 22:32
All of which raises the question:

What the heck is up with the Daybooks?

I suspect they need re-editing but it would also seem a valuable bit of scholarship to do so. Is something/someone blocking a new version, is someone already working on it, or is there really not enough interest?

--Darin

karl french
9-Feb-2015, 23:02
What's wrong with the Daybooks? We're lucky to have what we have, considering he destroyed most of the early writings.

Darin Boville
10-Feb-2015, 02:18
Well, I guess the biggest problem with them is that they are out of print!

Darin

John Layton
10-Feb-2015, 07:36
The book is buried somewhere in my basement...but I do believe I can paraphrase A.D. Coleman from his (1969?) text: "Light Readings," that "Edward Weston squarely placed a huge boulder in the path of the progress of 20th century photography."

Well, I'm sorry, but A.D. just didn't get it!

Many years ago, I was a judge at a well regarded regional photography contest. All of the black and white entries had been captured and processed "traditionally" (film and darkroom). Yeah, there were some dogs - but also some truly well seen, conceived, and executed work. Roll forward a few years, and I'm judging the same contest - but this time pretty much everything is digital...and this time, pretty much everything had absolutely nothing to say.

My takeaway from the above has nothing to do with anything wrong with modern technology (we can never truly fault a technology, but can only make an educated choice not to embrace it), and everything to do with the OP's query about E.W. "falling out of favor."

Weston was a true visionary and would be still if he were alive today. His process of seeing/conceiving/executing, starting with his "Flame of Recognition" and continuing towards "Significant Presentation" (his words) - was a process of seeking and realizing a spiritual and connective symmetry with that which he photographed. For this he found a technology which could become, for him, transparent...his camera could disappear - as could his ego. It was not about him...and he did, then, channel something very significant about that which he photographed. And he can and does, still, communicate this to those of us who are willing to put our own egos aside and truly look, so that we might actually see. He's given us this amazing, timeless gift that so many today seem to simply ignore.

In 1982 I took a workshop with Cole Weston...such a good person and free spirit! He taught us his dad's version of ABC pyro - and I got to use E.W.'s contact printing frame and dodging tools in making some of my own prints. How cool was that? Equally cool was that in 1995 - I had an (all too brief) experience with an art dealer/gallery owner named Bonni Benrubi (who was then located, if memory serves, on E. 76th St. in N.Y.), where she decided to package some of my work with some original E.W.'s and ship this to a client in New Mexico. Long story short...the work was returned to her, and shortly thereafter my relationship with Bonni Benrubi ended (that part is a bit more complicated). I know I should feel badly about this - but to have shared this (shipping) box with E.W. can still wake me up smiling! Make no mistake...E.W. Lives!

lecarp
10-Feb-2015, 08:46
John, very well stated.
It seems most of the population is unable (or refuses) to be quiet or still long enough to appreciate such things.
If it is not consumed and discarded in the amount of time it takes to sweep their finger across the phone they don't get it.

Darin Boville
10-Feb-2015, 11:25
>>Roll forward a few years, and I'm judging the same contest - but this time pretty much everything is digital...and this time, pretty much everything had absolutely nothing to say.<<

Digital photography - computers but computers also = the Internet.

I wonder if a big factor in these sorts of observations results from younger photographers having easy access to more kinds of photography than the traditional photography canon of f/64, Bresson, etc?

--Darin

Drew Wiley
10-Feb-2015, 12:12
The published Daybooks would be considered as collectible themselves if still in good condition. But as much as I admire them, I can't help contrast them to a major article which EW contributed to Encyclopedia Brittanica at one time, which was about as jaded a diatribe against everything "pictorial" as I've ever read,
including by definition everything he himself did prior to the f/64 ethos. In other words, I suspect he was capable of spinning a complete line of BS when the
occasion demanded it. But his prime legacy is not literature anyway. In terms of the younger generation, I suspect that just about any kind of stationary flat art
in a frame is endangered in terms of appreciation, along with the museums themselves. The web seems to have become the "final solution" to the very concept of prints, to the masses at least. But the masses have little influence on what some of us choose to do, regardless. As for EW, his better known prints will hold their value, to put it mildly.

Moopheus
10-Feb-2015, 12:28
All of which raises the question:

What the heck is up with the Daybooks?

I suspect they need re-editing but it would also seem a valuable bit of scholarship to do so. Is something/someone blocking a new version, is someone already working on it, or is there really not enough interest?

--Darin

I'd guess not enough interest. I work for an academic publisher, and I can tell you that that would not be an easy or cheap thing to do, particularly if you wanted to go back to the original manuscripts and do a new transcription. You would need to be sure of a market of a few thousand copies for an expensive edition. The CCP in AZ says they control the rights for the photos, not clear who would have the say for the text (family heirs?).

I worked on an online repository for some 19th century poetry where we have scans of the manuscripts presented with transcripts of the text. It's pretty cool and if someone has a small fortune to donate, that would be a way to go too.

John Jarosz
10-Feb-2015, 12:43
His minimalist technique seems like it would be too easy... Until you try it.

Absolutely true. And minimalism is not in favor right now. You need pizazz, marketing, explosions and gratuitous sex in order to gain a spot in the galleries.

Oh, and I left out photoshop.........

john

Drew Wiley
10-Feb-2015, 13:03
I'd be more worried about finding bookstores in this day and age where someone can actually look at an expensive edition than about someone coming up with
the money to publish it. Weston is, after all, pretty damn famous. But who wants to order something expensive sight unseen from Amazon just to have it land on their doorstep with a crushed corner or a page creased?

Old-N-Feeble
10-Feb-2015, 13:07
At the risk of some flaming... EW was never really my cup-of-tea.

Drew Wiley
10-Feb-2015, 13:35
I'd describe EW's vision as meticulously "poised", certainly not minimalist. There's a lot going on if you are attuned to the nuances, both visually and subconsciously. But this is somewhat dependent on seeing the prints in person. When his prints weren't wholly successful, I'd describe their look as "clinical", at least his later "post-pictorial" ones. I do find myself quite disappointed whenever the art establishment tries to drum up interest by playing the same card as advertising, namely, "gotcha" imaging, intended to grab your attention instantly, but not for the duration. Big, loud, and so routinely, monotonously controversial that nobody gives a damn anymore.

Kirk Gittings
10-Feb-2015, 13:44
Not minimalist by any stretch of my imagination http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimalism. You would have to go to Sugimoto's ocean/horizon series I think to see something like minimalism in photography. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/570268371536572347/
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/51/b2/a7/51b2a762cf010365055a42a578681caa.jpg

Drew Wiley
10-Feb-2015, 14:14
I'd have trouble even calling him "minimalist", Kirk. He had a template for sure. But the timing of the details in the waves etc. I ran into the same thing with one of my own prints. They called the web image minimalist, but when they saw the real thing (a 30x40 Ciba of a lake surface loaded with intricate wave detail that doesn't show on small scale at all - they sure changed their mind fast). Besides Sugimoto, some of Robert Adam's surf scenes come across utterly bland in book form, but highly nuanced in the real prints. Kinda like calling Rothko minimalist. I'd call him just the opposite - but one has to resonate with the painting in the first place, or somehow be attuned to the same subconscious wave length. And his paintings hit me in the gut - hard. Even the composition is complex. It takes a helluva lot more skill to paint a seemingly rough random edge or line which constantly intrigues than a conspicuous pattern.

Merg Ross
10-Feb-2015, 14:17
All of which raises the question:

What the heck is up with the Daybooks?

I suspect they need re-editing but it would also seem a valuable bit of scholarship to do so. Is something/someone blocking a new version, is someone already working on it, or is there really not enough interest?

--Darin

Edward asked Nancy Newhall to edit his Daybooks, also Dody prior to that. There was an effort by his fans to raise money for publication while Edward was alive, but when the checks came in he said that did not seem the right way to go about publishing; the checks were all returned.

It was fortunate that someone who knew Edward well was able to edit the Daybooks. Re-editing is not necessary nor is a new version. The Daybooks are what they are. Imagine a Ben Maddow version of the Daybooks; his biography of Weston is probably the worst ever written.

Shortly after Edward died, the heirs proposed that Eastman House oversee publication of the Daybooks in collaboration with Horizon Press. Those were the first editions, Aperture printed a second.

Drew Wiley
10-Feb-2015, 14:45
Hmm... Somebody sure did a good job. It was a classic publication. Guess the part which most impressed me was EW's struggle to figure out why he photographed
a section of one particular palm trunk and not another. I've seen a vintage print of that very subject. Don't know if there is an answer to why - but that is one
compelling image (minimal or not)!

Darin Boville
10-Feb-2015, 15:02
It was fortunate that someone who knew Edward well was able to edit the Daybooks. Re-editing is not necessary nor is a new version.

Well, I guess I'm not yet convinced. Who knows what surprises the original Daybooks might hold, especially if edited by someone *without* a personal connection to Weston, and especially now so many years later when readers' view of sex, etc has changed so much.

It would be a treasure trove for all things Weston and as one of the most important photographers of the 20th Century it certainly deserves to be done.

I wonder what sort of funding would make such a project possible?

--Darin

Bill_1856
10-Feb-2015, 15:03
1. the Daybooks. Re-editing is not necessary nor is a new version.
Actually an annotated version is needed (IMHO). It was not until reading the Modoti biographies that I appreciated much of what he wrote in the Mexican volume.
2. a Ben Maddow version of the Daybooks; his biography of Weston is probably the worst ever written.
Why so? It's a lot better than nothing!

Moopheus
10-Feb-2015, 15:28
I wonder what sort of funding would make such a project possible?

--Darin

I guess it would depend on the nature of the publication, and how much time it would take for someone to transcribe and edit the pages. They'd probably have to be able to spend some time in AZ with the archive. The idea of annotations sounds cool. $50K at a minimum would be my guess, more if you wanted to do, say, scans of the pages, online archive, that sort of thing. $100-200K. For a nice professional job. Kickstarter anyone? Wonder if they'd go for it.

Just reprinting an existing edition would be somewhat less expensive, obviously, but would likely require at least new typesetting.

Steve Sherman
10-Feb-2015, 18:50
IMHO it takes years to leave behind the grandeur of the western landscapes made famous by AA and others. EW could find beauty in the mundane and only after years of pursuing the same craft do I begin to understand the magnitude of his vision and talent.

Had the good fortune to see a "project print" (those printed by Brett of Pepper #30), EW thought Brett printed with too much contrast and did not care for Brett's rendering. It is he single most beautiful Black and White I have ever seen.

EW's grandson Kim told me that EW only made 7 original Pepper # 30 prints in his entire lifetime !

Kirk Gittings
10-Feb-2015, 20:59
a friend of mine has a Brett printed Pepper. It is indeed beautiful.

Merg Ross
10-Feb-2015, 21:41
Well, I guess I'm not yet convinced. Who knows what surprises the original Daybooks might hold, especially if edited by someone *without* a personal connection to Weston, and especially now so many years later when readers' view of sex, etc has changed so much.

It would be a treasure trove for all things Weston and as one of the most important photographers of the 20th Century it certainly deserves to be done.

I wonder what sort of funding would make such a project possible?

--Darin

I am not sure what you mean by the "original" Daybooks. Edward destroyed a large portion of his entries, so the "original" Daybooks do not exist. The two Daybooks under discussion represent the remaining manuscripts.

Let Edward Weston be represented by his photographs. Those are what really matter, and as we pass through the present period, his work will rise to even greater stature. I have no sense that it has fallen "out of favor".

Having said that, more will be written of the man, as has been done with Group f:64. It is always safe to do so when all of the players are deceased, but Maddow made the mistake of writing about a man he never met while most of the players, other than Edward, were still alive. They called him out on his fabrications of the truth, hence I am not alone in my opinion of the Maddow book.

Darin Boville
10-Feb-2015, 22:51
Interesting: http://www.largeformatphotography.info/forum/showthread.php?13585-Ansel-Adams-Fakes&p=110744&viewfull=1#post110744

--Darin

bigdog
11-Feb-2015, 11:53
In the near future:

http://www.cartermuseum.org/exhibitions/like-father-like-son-edward-and-brett-weston

I've traveled across the country to see Weston work. Now I'll have some only across town for a few months. Bet I go more than once ... :cool:

Mark Sampson
11-Feb-2015, 16:23
Well, The Phillips Collection has just taken down the Weston 'Nautilus Shells' that had been on display for the past couple of months. Along with the Caponigro, Brett Weston, Callahan, Siskind, Aansel Adams, Strand, Steiglitz and Minor White prints that had hung alongside it. They were replaced by Robert Motherwell paintings, but I don't think that it means that E. Weston (or any of those photographers) is going out of style.

Drew Wiley
11-Feb-2015, 17:05
Yuk. I actually showed alongside Motherwell once. Total mismatch. Makes me wish acrylic pigments were never invented. Lots of overlapping tape lines, hardly mixed pigment colors etc. Not my favorite asbract expressionist by any means, though he does apparently resonate stongly with some people if you take in those
big painting from a moderate distance. Maybe I'm jaded because I close into those things, and admire fine brushwork when its present. I don't like it when you can
see their hand and all their mind-changes. Mondrian was another one that left conspicuous overpainted tape lines all over the place.

Gary Nylander
11-Feb-2015, 23:20
Let Edward Weston be represented by his photographs. Those are what really matter, and as we pass through the present period, his work will rise to even greater stature. I have no sense that it has fallen "out of favor".

Great quote, Merg, Edward Weston has been one of my photographic inspirations, thank goodness he left us his Day Books and of course his fine photography.

Alan Gales
11-Feb-2015, 23:27
a friend of mine has a Brett printed Pepper. It is indeed beautiful.

Lucky dog!