by Dr. Lori Verderame
Born in Illinois, Edward Weston was interested in art and took up photography after his father gave him his first camera in 1902. He moved to California in 1906 and worked as a surveyor for the railroad. He perfected his craft by going door to door and offering to take photographs. He married Flora Chandler in 1909 and they had four sons together. By 1911, he set up his first studio in Glendale, CA. Weston’s early work recalled the soft-focused, pictorial style. In 1915, a visit to the San Francisco World’s Fair inspired Weston to consider modernism in his work.
Weston found commercial success by the end of the 1910s. In 1917, he became a member of the London Salon. In 1922, he met photography pioneers, Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand. Weston began putting his banal and common subjects in sharp focus. He staged powerful compositions and he rejected his work dating prior to 1922. He wanted to be known for his later, more modernist work.
Weston in Mexico
In 1923, Weston traveled to Mexico. Experiencing marital problems, he opened a studio there with his companion and lover, artist Tina Modotti. Although Weston’s first work with objects, such as vegetables and shells, was an outgrowth of his experiences in Mexico from 1923-1926, he did not clearly begin to fully develop this interest in the still life subject matter until 1930. About 1923, he began keeping his famous journals, known as day books. He maintained these day books until 1943. After a few years in Mexico, Weston returned to California. He opened a studio in San Francisco with his second son, Brett. In 1929, the father/son photography team moved their studio to Carmel, CA.
Nature’s still life
After his return to California in 1927, he continued making negatives of natural forms that attracted him, like the nautilus shell, bananas, and swiss chard. By 1927, Weston was working with this new favorite subjects, bananas and shells. He returned to these subjects again in 1930. However in 1930, Weston’s attention seemed to focus more acutely toward organic forms. In addition to his obsession with the pepper’s sensuality, he turned his camera to other evocative vegetal subjects like cabbage and celery, focusing on their abstract qualities. Weston experimented with various domestic objects available to him around the house. In June of that year he took up photographing an egg slicer, placing it in different positions, to explore the play of light and shadow.
Weston, along with Ansel Adams, helped to form the famous Group f/64 in 1932. He was the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1937. Weston only worked in large format and mainly produced silver and platinum prints. He only experimented a bit with color photography toward the end of his career. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Weston had his sons, Brett and Cole, print his works in the 1940s. After Weston’s death in 1958, Cole continued to print from his father’s negatives.
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