Edward Weston was born in 1886 in Chicago. During his “reign” he was really the first to discard the documentary and pictorial precepts of photography back then. Which is why many considered him the “greatest photographer of the 20th Century”. He took the most mundane of subjects and made them art. Or, as he use to say, “to make the commonplace unusual”.
Edward Weston and 8×10 Cameras
Amazingly, all his work was beautiful in every sense of the word. Most of his work was done with an 8×10 camera, and contact printed. His series on seashells began with a collection ascribed to his girlfriend of the time, the illustrious Tina Modotti. His transformation of these objects to works of art were either the result of his genius, or just love and lust. Either way, a vintage print of one of his seashells, “Nautilus, 1927”, sold for $1,082,500 at auction.
Even the humble green pepper stood no chance before his lens. His work was almost an abstract sculpture in every sense. While Robert Mapplethorpe would take a similar road with his flowers series, Edward Weston was considered the fountainhead, elevating objects to art for the first time in photography. Remember, at the time, photography was not art in any sense of the word. In fact, using a lowly industrial revolution contraption to produce art was considered blasphemous, at best.
Edward Weston was given a Kodak box camera as a teenager by his father. By 18 years old, his work was being published in a photo magazine. While he did do a short stint at the Illinois School of Photography, he was mostly self taught. At first he stuck to a kind of artsy style of portraiture that almost tried to emulate paintings. Quite common then. But in 1913, he met the photographer, Margarethe Mather, one of the many women to be drawn to him. She bacame an impetus behind a more free thinking and radical style, abandoning his bent towards the romantic pictorial images of the day. Enough so for many to start to proclaim him the master that he was.
But it was Tina Modotti who further radicalized his imaging, and the way he would view the world going foward. Around this time, he traveled waswho pushed Weston towards an even more radical way of seeing the world though his camera. Having become lovers after she posed for him, they first travell to Mexico with Modotti and began a series of beautifully intimate nudes of Modotti. They lived, and grew artistically together for about 5 years. In reality, I would say that this was when Weston settled into an artistic vision he would henceforth always carry with him.
The Sensual Pepper is Born
Getting back to California, and another lover, Sonya Noskowiak, he was glad to be back from the desert. It was Sonya who brought him the green peppers to photograph. The most famous of which, Pepper No. 30, was probably one of his masterpieces. Surreal, yet almost human in form. Sensuality exploded from the image. Food would be the last thought in the viewer’s mind. But just a pepper.
Group f/64 Takes Flight
In 1932 a group of west coast photographers, including Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham, formed Group f/64. Weston joined them soon after. Their idea was to promote photography in the purest sense. The discarding the norm of trying to make an photographic image be something it is not. Painting. However, Edward Weston was never one to restrict his imagination, wherever that would lead. At the end of his life he almost exclusively photographed Point Lobos, California. From coastal panoramas to details of rocks and trees. Point Lobos was to Edward Weston what Yosemite was to Ansel Adams.
Edward Weston was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1946, and died in 1958. A true pioneer and innovator, and “The 20th century’s greatest photographer”.