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Thread: Weston Show at the Eastman House

  1. #1

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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    The George Eastman House in Rochester, New York is showing several large collections of Edward Weston's work this summer. It contains a pretty complete mix of his work, along with some personal effects and letters. I especially appreciated seeing more of his later work, which has more "man-altered landscapes" and social-environmental and artist's lifestyle images. This later work seems especially modern to me, and vastly better than all those MFA thesis attempts at approaching the same material.

    My problem with the show the Eastman House's lighting. The images are lit so dim that they look like mud. I can get a better sense of his work from a book, and none of the images had the holding power or richness of the prints I've seen - in a bright gallery - in Carmel or elsewhere.

    I understand the reasons for the dim lighting but geez, unless you knew what his prints looked like in a normal setting, you'd come away from the show saying, "So what?".

    Has anyone else see it? Is it just the GEH that is paranoid about lighting, or are other major photo galleries turning down the watts?

  2. #2

    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    I dont know about galleries but Museums here in Mexico are going nuts with this too....the light is so dim is it hard to appreciate the work. There has to be a balance between conservation and realizing that photographs is a reflective medium, low light takes away half of what the print needs to work.

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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    As a matter of fact, Frank, my wife and I were just there last week. We found the lighting to be perfectly resonable and actually much brighter tham many a museum we've been to. So no, the lighting was not an issue for us. OTOH, I do have an issue with the print selection for this show but that is a differnet matter.

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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    The show at the LA Public Library a couple years back was extremely dim, anything beyond a Zone III just looked black. The more recent show at the Huntington Library was even darker. I assume there is some preservation reason for this that I don't appreciate, since nobody would ever think this is the best way to look at them. I only became interested in large format after walking into a large display of his prints while killing time between meetings near the LA Art Musuem around 1980 or so. (I had never heard of Weston, I wandered over to the museum and followed the line of people upstairs and there I was. ) The lighting was excellent and I was amazed by his photographs as compositions and the inherent technical quality of the contact prints made quite an impression on me. I just didn't know a camera could do that. I am sure the experience under dungeon lighting would not have been the same.

  5. #5

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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    The conservators and museum people don't want the images to fade, which is admirable. But they need to think of a better way to deal with the issue. I've been to see the Weston show three or four times so far- the work is wonderful. It is too dark in the galleries, but I've been able to adapt. Not so, however, at the Nationll Gallery's Roger Fenton show. There the illumination was at safelight level, and I got a massive headache from having to stare wide-eyed at work that deserved better.

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    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    Intermittent lighting is one way around this, where the lights are generally low, but the viewer can press a button to turn on more light for a timed interval. I've seen this sort of arrangement for ink on paper, pastels, watercolors, and other fragile media (more fragile than Weston's prints, I would think).

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    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    They usually have rules against flash photography, but not against coal miners' helmets.

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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    Maybe I'll wear my little Petzl halogen headlamp next time. They did have intermittent lighting on his 8x10 color Kodachromes, and they looked great (although he only did Point Lobos stuff, no nudes or irony).

    Had he been productive in a color era, he would have outdone Eagleston and Sternfeld by 40-50 years...

  9. #9

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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    Dim lighting of photographic prints seems to be the current museum trend. This is particularly disturbing in the case of Weston who showed and judged his prints under a western skylight --- at least he did in the Carmel years. The last exhibit of his work in San Francisco suffered from low light levels. Better to show them as intended -- they will not last forever anyway.

  10. #10
    tim atherton's Avatar
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    Weston Show at the Eastman House

    I'm trying to remeber the details now and I may not have got it quite right, as it's been a couple of years since I talked with a conservator about this but there are at least a couple of problems.

    One I think is that the effects of such light damage are cummulative, so a lot depends on the history of the print and how much it has been exposed to light of various types before (and how much exposure remains undocumented).

    Another is that as a photograph ages, the various things which effect it's longevity accelerate - so the effect of say humidity or temperature cycling or various forms of light exposure have a proportinally greater effect than on a newer photograph. So that the damaging effect of exhibition light on one of these prints 50 years ago (or on a print you just made) would be nowhere near as great as on prints of this age and vintage.

    These silver prints don't last for ever. And the older they are the easier it is to damage them and accelerate their decline.

    So the choice is show them in subdued conditions, or show them fully lit - perhaps as their creator intended - and accept that in a number of years their life may have come to a premature end.

    Most institutions responsible for such work are obviously going to chose the latter
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn

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