If you’re new to this series of articles, you might like to start here – Top B&W Photographers – Tom’s Ten
#7 – The Westons
Both Edward Weston and his son, Brett, are regarded as pillars of black and white photography and for good reason: they’re responsible for a plethora of iconic images that continues to evoke passion amongst enthusiasts, collectors and photographers today. Such a statement could arguably have been directed towards ‘that other’ titan of landscape photography, Ansel Adams. However, as a fan of of both, I see the Westons’ work as more modern, forward pointing and wide ranging.
I believe that their work was underpinned by a more creative outlook that it is more closely connected to the work of celebrated contemporary photographers. There is certainly significant cross over between the images of these great men, but I see more fluidity in Edward and Brett’s work as well as a greater relevance across photographic disciplines today. Considering that Edward was born in 1886, sixteen years before Ansel Adams, his greater influence on photography today (my opinion) is all the more remarkable. Edward Weston was very much into his creative stride in the 1920s & 30s, when Ansel was just beginning to find his earliest expression. Another difference I think is worth noting is the human element. I find Ansel Adams’ photographs of people among his least compelling, whereas Edward Weston produced a great many photographs of the human form (or influence on the environment) that are favourites of mine (Floating Nude above being a good example). Sensuality and intimacy are words that come to mind (even when he was photographing vegetables…)
Edward Weston and Brett worked closely together and so one might expect there to be similarity in their work. Nonetheless, this is often so acute that it can be impossible to tell their work apart on the basis of style or vision. They tackle similar subject matter in a similar manner. However, where we see the greatest divergence is at the extremes: Edward’s early work (1920/early 1930s) is very different to the Photographs produced by Brett towards the end of his career (1970s-1990s). The increasing contrast and graphic quality of Edward’s work continued with his son, such that the latter’s Hawaii portfolio overlaps very little with the more conservative work we might expect from his father.
I like to look at their images together and see them as a continuum. I enjoy the fact that they were father and son, that they did work extensively together and that they each had their own solo eras. The fact their their work does span so many disciplines (still life, landscape, abstract, experimental etc) and such a long period gives us a much broader and deeper experience to revel in and learn from. With some photographers, the core of their ‘best’ work may be comprise of only a few dozen images, but with the Westons you can multiply this by 20 or more. This results in books with tremendous page turning power (see later)!
If you like what you see here, I suspect you will come back to their work again and again throughout your own photographic journey. The fact that they shot their work predominantly on 8×10 view cameras and contact printed on Kodak Azo paper is important to many of their traditional photographer fans, but it needn’t be. These details are only as relevant as you want them to be. I was familiar with their technical methods at a time when I was still looking for something else in photography. Ironically, I found myself fully embracing their work about ten years ago, after I had largely stopped working with sheet film. At this time, as much as I loved (and still love) Ansel Adams’ work, I needed a stronger human connection. My own work was moving from landscape into documentary and the Westons’ work began to resonate more strongly with me.
There are a number of books I will write about in the future, but at this point in time I can strongly recommend the following:
Edward Weston, A Legacy by Jennifer A. Watts (a tremendous cross section of Edward Weston’s work)
Dune, edited by Kurt Markus (Dune images by Brett and Edward).
Neither are available new from Amazon at the time of writing, but I am sure you would be able to hunt down copies at reasonable price with a little patience.
I am still searching for Brett Weston books to go in my collection and have enjoyed Voyage Of The Eye (Aperture) and snippets in other books. Brett’s work is less easily found in high quality comprehensive books at a reasonable price and some of the used editions cost a fortune. I’m patient, however!
P.S. I’m slowly working my way back to blogging after my house move. After all, I did get married, we’re expecting a baby and I had to renovate the office I am now working from myself! It has been non-stop this end, but I didn’t stop the photography (just writing about it). There’s lots I’m looking to share, ranging from commentary on where the camera industry is at, various cameras and lenses I have used and the usual ‘things that come up’. Back soon.