Edward Weston

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Monday 15 November 2010
Ron Brownson

Unfortunately, this Gallery does not have an extensive, or even, representative collection of international photography. This results from the fact that until some decades ago international photography was not part of the gallery's acquisition policy. Prior to 1979, international photography was rarely ever shown.

Nevertheless, some interesting photographers work is held in the collection. I have written previously on artists like Florence Henri and Cecil Beaton. I thought you should see images of the four Edward Weston photographs we hold here. They are not vintage prints made by the artist but are posthumous prints made by his son, Cole Weston. Cole was as careful a photographic printer as his father, but these photographs do not have the same stature as prints created on vintage photographic paper by the artist himself.

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Weston's print San Francisco has always intrigued me, it actually like it might have been a strangely cropped picture from the 19th century. Yet, this cropping which reveals that it could never have been from that period. The cropping further makes this picture fascinating to me. The combination of a 19th century barque, with its striking figurehead and the electric power poles is typical of Weston's surreal juxtapositions.

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Hill and Telephone Poles has always been a favourite. It feels like a Grant Wood landscape made in the mid-West. Set amongst rolling hills, it has aged and rickety fences next to a bitumen road. It is hot and dry; a lonely place somewhere in middle America. Weston was one of America's most committed independent photographers between the World Wars. He was obsessed with telling stories about places by revealing a location's unique reality.

Weston believed that his approach to image-making was 100% objective. His large format camera and negative supported his own notion that he was securing evidence of the way things 'looked'. The fact is, Weston was not so neutral about his subjects. His photo-eye is filled with metaphorical parallels, vegetables represent sensual experience and simple landscapes propose complex Zen-like responses to nature's energy.

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Iceberg Lake has all the ambiguity that I expect from a great Weston photograph. Almost prosaic, with no real centre to the image, this photograph breaks from its edges in the ways that an Arshile Gorky drawing does.

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Cypress, Point Lobos comes from Weston's last period in an isolated area of California. The wind, sea, rocks and trees of that battered coastline become symbols of the war years. Chaos is everywhere and the landscape is shown to be suffering. Wilderness and wartime become disturbing parallels.

When art student Paul Armstrong first showed me reproductions of Edward Weston's photographs I had a priggish reaction. I thought they were so bland that they were almost inert. I 'saw' nothing evocative in them. How much my regard for Edward Weston has changed. He will never be angsty like Robert Frank or despairing like Diane Arbus, but he had one of America's searing eyes. His tendency to mix his life with his art makes him, for me, a somewhat romantic artist. Like a John Wayne with camera.

Captions:
San Francisco 1925 (printed later)
black and white photograph
1978/2/1

Hill and Telephone Poles 1937 (printed later)
black and white photograph
1978/2/4

Iceberg Lake 1937
black and white photograph
1978/2/3

Cypress, Point Lobos 1944 (printed later)
black and white photograph
1978/2/2