Before Arnold Newman there was Edward Weston

Took another gander at the Smithsonian Museum of American History’s archive last week with curator Shannon Thomas Perich who kindly showed me some early and dear Edward Weston’s.  At first I poo-pooed as I had no desire to see more sand dunes or shells, or green peppers, but reader, why one should always just shut-up and listen as a garden of delights was placed before my unworthy eyes.

When one thinks of Edward W., environmental portraiture does not come to mind.  But before Weston examined the nekkid human figure and it’s doppelganger, the green pepper, he was creating beautiful portraits, beginning the process of abstraction that would later define some of his best work, and making luminous palladium prints.  Staring at these beauties, which I do no justice in recreating, was akin to me to the experience of some upon sitting in a Rothko chapel.  Breathtaking.

© Edward Weston

© Edward Weston

I believe this portrait is of Margrethe Mather.  Mather was associated with Edward Weston. They were close companions who collaborated on many photographs. His fame continues to overshadow Mather’s considerable work from the period of their collaboration and afterwards. Mather and Weston met in 1913 and worked together until he departed for Mexico in 1923 with Tina Modotti. The photographs Mather made, both alone and in collaboration with Weston, helped set the stage for the shift from pictorialism (softly focused images giving the photograph a romantic quality) to modernity. Many of her photographs were more experimental than those being produced by her contemporaries.

© Edward Weston

© Edward Weston

They found this great attic and exploited its chapel like lines.  I could do perhaps the same thing in miniature in my Ikea pantry. Sigh.

© Edward Weston

© Edward Weston

Reminds me of the Odalisque, supine but not enslaved.

© Edward Weston

© Edward Weston

First train out of pictorialism, and heading towards abstraction. Go man go!

© Edward Weston

© Edward Weston

Back in the chapel/attic.

weston-7

Shannon believes that Sothebys recently sold the only other print existing of this portrait of Tina Moddotti for a million washingtons.  I was careful not to sneeze (or drool, as more likely the scenario). No that mark on her pit is not from me.

© Edward Weston

© Edward Weston

This might be Margrethe again.

© Edward Weston

© Edward Weston

I was duly chastised by aforementioned curator when I called this picture “cute.”

© Margreth Mather

© Margrethe Mather

Margrethe’s own work.  I am looking for her biography right now, I am interested in those who are lost in the passage of time.  Perhaps envisioning my own future?weston-1

And tucked away in a lone corner I found him. Our father, Louis Daguerre himself.  It was all I could do to refrain from sticking him in pocketbook and bolting out the door.

Gazing on these prints makes me feel totally inadequate.  There are all different ways to evaluate a work, but for whatever reason, when I see these prints, I don’t care who made them, they are beautiful, tonal, soft, textural and soulful.  I want to burn my inkjet printer (causing even greater environmental damage alas), destroy all my color negatives and start anew.  I am not worthy. Photoshop is not worthy.

Oh well. Tomorrow is another day.

PS Did you know that the Smithsonian Museum of American History is our country’s oldest photographic archive? I did not.

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6 thoughts on “Before Arnold Newman there was Edward Weston

  1. His photographs, his Daybooks–these were my introduction to photography. In college courses, I tried to duplicate them. I was young and too much in a hurry. These are slow, thoughtful photographs. I agree with you about the portraits. They are delicious.

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