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Profiles in Black and White: Edward Weston

In Black and White Photography, Photographer on August 26, 2013 at 12:51 pm

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“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

Edward Weston

For Edward Weston, born March 24, 1886, his start in photography came with a Bull’s Eye #2 camera that he got as a sixteenth birthday gift. After his first publication four years later, Weston would move west, where worked as an itinerant photographer. But his success would be minimal, getting little return selling his wares door to door  for photographs of people’s children, pets and funerals. Acknowledging the need for more formal training, Weston moved back to Illinois and enrolled in a twelve-month course at the Illinois College of Photography. He completed it in half the projected time and returned once more to California. This time he took a job as a retoucher at the George Steckel Portrait studio. Soon after, though, he moved to the Louis A. Mojoiner Portrait Studio, where his skills in creating poses and a deft feel for lighting began to become apparent. In 1911, Weston would open his own studio, his home for the next two decades and the birthplace of his first important works.

In photography’s formative years, the first photographers had focused on the novelty of being able to produce crisp, clear images that painting and drawing could only attain with the highest level of technical skill. Edward Weston’s eyes and mind saw it differently. Photographs didn’t have to be limited by a hard focus or simply be used as a means to document events. A camera could create a variety of images equal to any art form. Weston first success would be in the medium of soft focus pictorials. After trips to ARMCO Steel in Middeltown, Ohio, New York City and a three-year stay in Mexico, Weston’s photos became increasingly dynamic; this included landscapes, true-to form photos of industrial facilities, nudes, portraits, folk settings, close ups and perhaps most famously, highly textured photos of the natural beauty found within seashells peppers and cabbages. These works would win Weston national prize competitions and international acclaim. In 1932, Weston would become a founding member of Group f/64 with Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham and Sonya Noskowiak, a powerful western proponent championing the Modernist aesthetic.

Shell

Unfortunately for the art and photography world, Weston would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1947, truncating his career. Until his death on New Year’s Day in 1958, Weston’s time and effort would be dedicated to producing prints of his most famous images. Today, they are considered some of the most valuable and cherished pieces of American photography in the world. Weston’s work has been displayed in numerous museums, such as the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris. The University of California, Santa Cruz, is the only home of a complete set of Weston’s, “The Project Prints,” what he considered to be the master set of his definitive work.

Weston’s work can be seen at:   http://www.edward-weston.com

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