View Full Version : Weston exhibit at Art Institute of Chicago

Jim Chinn
3-Sep-2001, 16:53
I would like to make a few comments and observations after viewing "Edward Westo n: The Last Years in Carmel", currently exhibiting at the Art Institute of Chica go.

I have seen previous Weston exhibits and prints as part of gallery collections, and while always acknowledging Weston as a great photographer and 20th century i nfluence, I did not agree with the near "god" status many have given him. Howeve r, upon seeing this show I will elevate him much nearer that status. For those who have not seen a review (see previous issue of Black and White magazine or ar chives of Chicago Tribune) the exhibit is mainly landscapes and abtracts from Po int Lobos, nudes and images of his sons and family from 1938-1945. While I was not impressed with the nudes or family work, the landscapes are quit e incredible. The images are much darker with a wonderfully complex balance bet ween the subdued highlights and shadows of the prints. Upon first examination o f one print ( I forget the title) which shows a setting sun behind clouds taken from hills above Point Lobos the ocean looks almost completely black. Upon clos er examination one begins to see an incredible tonal delineation in the shadows, subtley revealing every wave crest, ripple and trough. I have never seen print s that show such depth and gradation in the shadows while stil maintaining a per fect compelment in the highlights. many of thes images are of chaotic, almost ra ndom subjects and Weston's use of lighting and printing brings a beautiful melan choly to each compostion.

Alright, sorry to be so long winded, these thoughts bugged the entire trip home so two observations: First, Anyone who can see this show will have a new appreci ation for his talents and vision as an artist, especially when one knows how pri mitive his methods were. Second, and not to start a firestorm, this exhibit demostrates why Weston is one of the great artists of any medium in the 20th century. Here was a man who obvi ously knew his life would be cut short and yet continued to grow and evolve his vision and art. That is something that not even the much more famous Ansel Adam s did, as his work was basically a repetion of old themes after 1950, even thoug h he was blessed with many more years to work than Weston.

david clark
3-Sep-2001, 17:12
Hi James, wait until you see some of his personal snap shots in the box which is known as his personal archives in the George Eastman House collection. Best, David

3-Sep-2001, 20:11
Minor White compared these later Point Lobos prints to Beethoven's later quartets. There is no higher or more appropriate praise possible. Please listen and look. String quartet in C sharp minor OP. 131. Among our finest creations.

mark lindsey
3-Sep-2001, 21:52
yes Weston was an amazing photographer, now you need to educate yourself on Adams.

4-Sep-2001, 09:25
Mark- Why?

mark lindsey
4-Sep-2001, 19:15
because this statement,"as his work was basically a repetion of old themes after 1950", is bs.


Ellis Vener
4-Sep-2001, 21:20
Mark you are right, it wasn't until after 1954 that Adams started repeating himself. Even Adams himself admitted that. Try reading Mary Street Alinder's biography of Ansel Adams for more details.

mark lindsey
4-Sep-2001, 23:09
I can see for myself from his work that it is not true. its funny to me how everyone holds weston up as a god, yet ignore the fact that he had great respect for adams as an artist and a human being. both adams and weston talked of the other as being the better artist.

I know that to berat adams is the "fashion", especially amoungst those who need to have the appearance of being "all knowing" and "modern", but the most common trait is the lack of any substance in their work.

Weston wouldn't even let those who he considered to be uncreative cross the threshold of his door--Adams was a good friend and always welcomed, I doubt that most of you "intellectuals" who talk the big talk here would even get onto the driveway.

5-Sep-2001, 00:54
Weston had a driveway?

You seem awfully defensive there Mark. You always this way?

Jorge Gasteazoro
5-Sep-2001, 01:05
LOL....chill out Mark.

mark lindsey
5-Sep-2001, 01:30
this goes way back, its an attitude that I find throughout this and other forums, and your right, I should chill out---its not worth my time....

Merg Ross
5-Sep-2001, 01:43
Mark- I knew Ansel and Edward. You are very wrong about Edward- his door was always open. When I was starting out in photography (almost 50 years ago) Brett told me "there is no competition in the arts". That is the way he felt and I think the philosophy served him well.

Jim Chinn
5-Sep-2001, 01:52
I don't mean to belittle Adams tremendous talent and craftsmanship. All art opinion is subjective by the viewer, and IMHO Adam's work for me is beautiful in the way that a beautiful object is used to decorate a room. I know his work fairly well, the first phtography exhibit I ever attended was the 117 print, "Ansel Adams: The Imprint of his Vision" at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego in 1985. After seeing the 30x40 enlargements of "Aspens" and I believe an even larger print of "Monolith: The Face of Half Dome", I left the book store with "Examples", and the three book photography series. Then and there I decided to upgrade from my college issue Pentax and acquire a view camera. Since then I have seen three other exhibits of his work. I would have to say 90% of how I first approached photography was directly influenced by his images and books. And I will even concede he was probably one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, and may have done more to champion the cause of conservation and enviromentalism than any other person. I just don't think he was a great artist. IMHO his work never moved beyond showing us the granduer and majesty of the landscape. The problem for me is it doesn't matter if it is 1927 or or 1960, it all the same granduer and majesty. this is the work of a master craftsman, not a great artist.

I will add one more comment as food for thought. I believe while his legacy was indeed great it has also been a curse for many photographers. Instead of pursuing their own vision, they spend their photographic lives trying to duplicate Ansel's lens selection, and developer, and printing technique etc, all in the hope that matching his technical skills will make their work somehow meaningful. Looking at the Weston prints I admired the skill with which the images were produced, but I was far more interested in how the prints communicated to me the essence of who Weston was and his vison.

Michael Feldman
5-Sep-2001, 04:13
Fine, Ansel Adams was not one of the great artists of the 20th century. But he was an artist, and some of his images could have easily passed for a Weston landscape if printed smaller, and vise versa. His attention to the technical aspects of photography, rather than of the mystery of the artistic vision, obviously detracted somewhat from his "message."

We all have our own "personal" images that each of us has created and that has meaning to us as artists. But looking at things somewhat objectively (if that is possible in the world of art), my guess is that Ansel Adams? images, as a whole, would "touch" more people than the images that have been produced by any of the participants of this forum. So let?s not denigrate every photographer who does not measure up to Edward Weston, because there would be a lot of artists in that category.

5-Sep-2001, 09:59
Yes, Bubba, Weston had a driveway to park Heimey in. Why don't you leave poor Mark alone. While being absolutely right on every subject no doubt comes quite naturally to him, do you have any concept of the tremendous amount of energy he expends to inform the rest of the world that it is indeed a fact. Poor guy. You let him alone, now -- you heah?

5-Sep-2001, 17:45
I went and visited the Weston exhibit today, Tuesday (free admission day). It's too bad Weston didn't have access to an enlarger, as squinting at 8x10 contact prints to see all the detail gets old after awhile, let alone adding more 'crows feet' (lines by eyes) to my face! <LOL!>

The larger the print the more the audience can get into the picture. The Adams prints I have seen in person were enlarged, and it made a difference, at least with me.

Tony Karnezis
6-Sep-2001, 20:10
"Here was a man who obviously knew his life would be cut short and yet continued to grow and evolve his vision and art."

How was his life cut short? -A newbee in LF phototraphy.

Merg Ross
7-Sep-2001, 01:49
His life was not cut short, however his ability to photograph was impaired by the onset of Parkinson's disease in 1946. His last exposures were made in 1948 and he died on New Year's Day, 1958. Weston questioned whether he was deprived of more years of creativity in a 1954 letter: Robin once wrote, "You are safe to finish what you have to finish." Maybe he is right, in fact I'm sure he is. So thinking,I wonder how that thought touches me. Was I cut off from my creative work at just the right time? Was I through? I don't think so, but could be. Edward Weston, Wildcat Hill. March 28, 1954.

Sean Yates
7-Sep-2001, 01:59
Well, perhaps

"a man who obviously knew his life would be cut short"

could be misconstrued, but I guess it's a matter of perspective. Maybe it could instead be written, "a man who obviously knew his career" or "a man who obviously knew his ability to produce work" ?

Edward lived to be 72, or close to it, so I guess he made his Biblical alotment of 3 score and 12. But the Parkinsons' was first noticed by Adams in 1941 or '44 ( I seem to recall ?) and he is suppossed to have exposed his last negative in 1948. At first he worked as he always did, and then he needed help to move the camera, and finally Cole wound up turning the focusing knob for him, or so he has written. I can only imagine what it must have been like in the darkroom.

Cole was born in 1916 and despite a stroke is still running around giving workshops and Brett, despite various health problems made it to 82 or so and worked almost all his life.

So while Edward may have lived a reasonable span, without the disease he would have lived longer and certainly been able to produce more work in his last ten years. Supposedly he was able to outrun his sons on the beach until the Parkinsons got bad. Some of the stories you hear are just heartbreaking - him being stuck in a corner and not being able to back out or turn around...both literal and figuartive I guess.

N Dhananjay
7-Sep-2001, 12:50
I've seen a photograph of him with his cat made by Wynn Bullock - this was late in his years. Its heart wrenching, because you can see the mask that Parkinson's has made of his face but his eyes have the same eloquence in them that you see in all pictures of him. Must have been a long, dark night of the soul. DJ

9-Sep-2001, 00:30
I saw the exhibit in July. I was duly impressed by some of the prints, but as always at AIC, i found the light to be far too dim and dreary to appreciate the work to its fullest. The most important thing I learned was that, in addition to his great work which rightly deserves all the praise it gets, Weston was also occasionally capable of mediocrity. IMO this is an important thing for us mere mortals to realize.