Home Feature Articles Edward Weston: a master of 20th century photography

Edward Weston: a master of 20th century photography

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Tomorrow is the birthday of Edward Weston. He was born on March 24th, 1886 in Highlands Park, Illinois, US.

Weston was a member of a small band of photographers, all based in California, who pioneered a distinctive western photographic style. The group, f.64, comprised Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and several other luminaries. Breaking from the prevailing view that a photograph itself did not constitute art, they pursued what they called ‘straight’ photography. They believed composition and creative use of light could create a photograph of the natural world that was artistic.

Edward Weston and Carmel

Although he lived throughout California and Mexico, Weston is most closely associated with the seaside town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Famous for its white beach, Comstock houses, and former Hollywood Star Mayor, Carmel is also a mecca for art lovers. Several years ago, I visited the Weston Gallery in Carmel, viewing prints of his most famous pieces. His most well-known photograph might be of a nautilus shell —  a beautiful natural object framed to emphasize its shape, curves, shadows and texture. Or, his photograph of a pepper — its highlighted convolutions and curves reminiscent of a Henry Moore sculpture.

Weston exploited the natural beauty of the West, its deserts, coastline, forests, and flora. His life is documented in the book Group f.64. The author, Mary Street Alinder (also the biographer of Ansel Adams), met Weston and other members of Group f.64. She describes his early career, craving the affirmation of Alfred Stieglitz, and his later emergence as a self-confident practitioner of his own photographic style.

I recommend the book to anyone interested in the development of modern American photography.

Edward Weston died in January 1958 at the age of 71.

Are you familiar with the work of Edward Weston? How do you view his impact on photography as an art form? Have you ever visited Carmel or the Monterey Peninsula? Please share your perspectives in the comments below.


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12 COMMENTS

  1. Weston Gallery has been open by appointment only since the pandemic with little hope of reopening to the general public any time soon. A loss.

  2. Keith, for me as an European with limited travel experience, California has always been pretty far away in more than a geographical sense. Therefore the f/64 group was something rather abstract for me, even though I was familiar with the pictures. So I found Mary Street Alinder’s book very enlightening, as it shows the mutual influence of the photographers, which I had never been aware of before.
    With regard to Edward Weston’s biography, I can also recommend reading his diaries, published by Nancy Newhall in the 1970s. I find the first volume “Mexico” particularly interesting. I still ponder what it was that drew Edward Westeon to Mexico and what impact the stay had on his development.

    One other note. Fine art black and white photography seems to be something of a positive family curse for the Westons. Cara Weston, a granddaughter of Edward Weston, proves that the women in the family also seem to carry on the tradition.
    https://www.carawestonphotography.com/biography

    I have to apologize for my English. I had to get some help from Google and its translator.

    Best regards
    Jens

  3. Hi Per, that’s a fun story. Thanks for sharing. I traveled to many beautiful locations on business, unfortunately before getting my photography act together. Monterey – what an incredible venue for a conference. Pt Lobos is a very special place, as is the entire Monterey Peninsula and the Pacific Coast Highway to the South. I think the faux Beatrix Potter houses you refer to in Carmel are probably the Comstock-designed places with the wavy shingle roofs. I think they are charming and add to the special character of Carmel, but it seems not everyone feels the same way! Although Coronado CA is hard to beat as an idyllic place to live, I think Carmel and Santa Barbara would come very close. All the best, Keith

  4. Masterful! I think it’s always interesting to see when a photographer, or any other kind of artist for that matter, can identify something interesting about an everyday item.

    By the way Keith it’s “Highland Park” without the “s” and Chicago will claim him as it’s very close to the city.

    • Hi Le Chef, thanks for the correction regarding his place of birth. It seems I managed to make two errors in the very first sentence of this piece! I definitely need to improve my proofreading game. I love Chicago, but I am with Weston in preferring California as the place to pitch my tent! Cheers, Keith

  5. Yep, I´ve visited both Carmel and Pt Lobos, camera and tripod in hand, once in the late eighties. I had the great luck (and lots of pushing…) to attend a reliability conference in Monterey at the time, and since I was then a great admirer of the Adams/Weston school of landscape photography, I brought my Rollei SL66 and a hefty tripod on the plane, and on the first opportunity went to Pt Lobos.

    Wow! Having perused all my cherished books of Weston and AA images for years, I found several spots that I recognised well enough to almost see their tripod footprints… Of course, my own efforts were no good; I can´t even find the prints anymore…. Trying to follow great image makers is a doomed effort, I realise now! But I was younger and even more stupid then….

    And Carmel! Among a multitude of (mostly) presumptious third-rate “art” galleries and phony little Beatrix-Potter-like cottages, there were a few photography galleries that actually showed the REAL THING! Wow; if I only had had the money to buy something more than books! Even those (very good) Cole prints from Edward´s negatives were beyond my financial horizon….

    Both Cole and Brett were still alive, and Kim had started his career. I was a bit proud of using the same camera as Brett (for whatever good it meant to me…) in his own territory. I was advised at one of the galleries to contact them and get invited to visit their house, but I hadn´t the nerve. Something I regret all since then!

  6. Thank you for writing this and alerting me to a book I’ll now have to track down. Just one comment – I suspect Weston’s 1816 birth date in the first sentence is an error …

    • Alan, thanks for noticing this. I have changed it to 1886 which to agree with Wikipedia. I think this was a typo. Keith will still be sleeping in California, I think, but will check later. Mike

        • Back to the drawing board. I am sure Keith will investigate in a few hours’ time. I think Wiki must be right. That tallies with the age at death in 1958. Is that 1907 or 2007? You look so young…

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