View Full Version : Weston at The Huntington

Sal Santamaura
15-Sep-2003, 19:41
First, since Google hasn't crawled our site's pages yet, I just searched the archive by manually reviewing thread titles in Photographs (85 threads), Darkroom Printing (323 threads) and Printing (non-darkroom and Exhibiting) (81 threads) and reading quite a few threads within those categories. The subjects of this question did not appear to have been covered, so I'm going to post it. If answers lurk in the archive, many apologies to everyone, including the most vocal complainer about cluttering things up with redundant questions: me!!

Having never seen one of his originals, I made my way to The Huntington last weekend to view "Edward Weston: A Legacy." Forming an opinion of this work was nearly impossible. As mentioned on other forums, light levels were far lower than he seems to have printed for, making almost all the images appear very heavy. In addition, mirror-like reflections from the acrylic glazing obscured them almost completely. Yesterday I sent a message to The Huntington's Curator of Photographs advising her about Tru View RF Acrylic, and she responded that she'll look into using it for future exhibitions. Doing so should solve at least one problem.

My assessment of the exhibit's other characteristics is not much better. First, all the silver-gelatin 8x10 images were in frames that I scaled (using the brochure) to be around 16x23. This felt much too large and rectangular. The overmats revealed only a very small area of the mat to which the print was mounted, typically in the neighborhood of 1/16" - 1/8". Very awkward looking. And the images were mounted dead center top-to-bottom; a weighted bottom always feels much better to my eye.

Finally, all the prints were significantly yellowed. They were printed a bit over six decades ago. I have been to other exhibits, including several of Adams' work, where many prints of similar age were displayed, and only recall a small percentage of those being as yellow as these uniformly were. To make matters worse, the mats were fairly white, a jarring contrast to yellow prints. Even with less highlight detail than originals, I'd rather look at the reproductions in this exhibit's brochure; at least they're white.

There have been several Adams Yosemite Special Edition 8x10s hanging on my wall for over twenty five years, and they show no signs of yellow. Can anyone shed light on the possible cause for yellowing in the exhibited Weston prints? Do baryta-based silver-gelatin papers react similarly to some paints, that is, yellow more if dark-stored than when displayed in room light? Thanks in advance for sharing any information/experience.

Michael A.Smith
15-Sep-2003, 19:59
Many of Weston’s prints from the period when many of the photographs in the exhibit were made always had a yellow cast to them. When properly lit, they have a glow like no other prints I have ever seen, except for some of Brett's and some of Ansel's made during the same period.

When making his prints, Weston viewed them under very bright light and many of them are indeed on the dark side. As a consequence, they do need light that is quite bright. When seen under dim light, they just look dull. And some of them are so dark they look dull even when seen in bright light.

david clark
15-Sep-2003, 20:37
What period of Weston's career, does he begin to make photographs with a yellow cast to them? And what factors contribute to the yellow cast? Thanks, David

Michael A.Smith
15-Sep-2003, 22:05
Some, not all, of the prints from the late 30s and early 40s have this color, and perhaps some from the mid 30s, too. It was the paper that had the yellow cast. Not sure what it was in the paper--I don't think it was the base.

david clark
15-Sep-2003, 22:29
Thanks again for the info Michael. David

Jim Chinn
16-Sep-2003, 02:46
I agree with the assessment of the lighting for Weston exhibits. I have seen a few, the most recent at the Art Institute of Chicago and was very disappointed in the presentation.

What is the point of exhibiting the work if the presentation does not match the way in which the artist intended the work to be seen? If it is for archival reasons, maybe limit the amount of time each day the prints are on display.

Mark Sampson
16-Sep-2003, 08:36
I agree about the low light levels... but in the 20s-30s there weren't the optical brighteners found in most modern papers. So older prints look less 'brilliant' than newer ones.And it's my guess that people printed 'warmer' in those days, and that the papers may have had more of a cream or warm toned base. I don't think fading is setting in, at least I hope not. I'll speak to the conservators about this, and see what they think at the Eastman House.

Richard Knoppow
16-Sep-2003, 09:36
The prints at the Huntington do mostly do not look like other Weston prints I've seen. A lot of them seem to be printed too dark and its not just dim illumination there. This is the first time I've seen Weston prints that look better in the catalogue reproductions. I've meant to talk the the curator of this exhibition about what she knows about the choices made for reproduction. The prints were given to the Huntington and are part of its permanent collection. These prints appear to be dry mounted and bled so that there is no border. That makes it difficult to tell anything about the base tint. The low level of illumination is necessary for preservation. The later prints in the series are more like the familiar glowing Weston prints I've seen elsewhere. From what I can see of the paper surfaces several types of papers are represented. The most reliable way to identify papers by manufacturer is from the screen pattern on the back of the paper. Kodak, in particular, has had a distinctive pattern for many decades. If you are in the Los Angeles area I strongly recommend seeing this exhibit but beware that the prints are not necessarily typical of Weston.

Carl Weese
16-Sep-2003, 11:25
The current Weston show at the Portland Art Museum, Maine, is stunning. The gallery lighting is adequate, even for Weston's dark printing style. There are 100 prints, all drawn from a single private collection, all printed by Edward near the time the negatives were made.

The prints show a variety of color effects which I suspect are due to the choice of paper--papers we have no modern equivalents for. The only weak prints in the show (though certainly of historical interest) are some early soft focus work printed in platinum. My impression is that the platinum paper available factory-made was inferior to what we can make today by handcoating our own. The most impressive thing to me about the main body of work is that no matter how dark or how contrasty some of the prints are, they never cross into a "brittle" or harsh tonality. Transitions between tones always remain smooth as silk. An enormously impressive collection of prints.---Carl

Michael A.Smith
16-Sep-2003, 20:40
The photographs in the Portland exhibition, plus about 10 or 11 others, are the content of the book Paula and I are publishing. It will be out early next year.