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Edward Weston Photo

Edward Weston

American Photographer

Born: March 24, 1886 - Highland Park, Illinois
Died: January 1, 1958 - Carmel, California
"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."
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Edward Weston Signature
"My own eyes are no more than scouts on a preliminary search, for the camera's eye may entirely change my idea."
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Edward Weston Signature
"Photography to the amateur is recreation, to the professional it is work, and hard work too, no matter how pleasurable it may be."
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Edward Weston Signature
"You don't take a photograph, you make it"
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Ansel Adams Signature

Summary of Edward Weston

From mild mid-western salesman to bohemian California artist, Edward Weston helped revolutionize photography so that it became an important component of modern art. His philandering ways got him into trouble in his personal life, but elevated him to new heights in his profession - helping him to forge artistic relationships with other modernists and inspiring his lifelong drive to capture the essence and beauty of everyday objects. Through his promotion of straight photography and his daybooks, in which he recorded his artistic growth, Weston helped cement photography's place as a legitimate modern artistic medium and influenced an entire generation of American photographers.

Accomplishments

  • By creating photographs that transformed his subjects into abstractions of shapes and patterns, Weston helped bring the medium out of the Victorian age that favored pictorialist imitations of painting and into the modern era wherein photography became a celebrated medium in its own right.
  • Similar to images used by the Surrealists, Weston's high resolution, realist photographs of organic forms and modern marvels encouraged viewers to reconsider seemingly mundane objects and form new associations with them.
  • Weston cofounded the f/64 Group, which promoted rather than disguised the characteristics of photography and, in so doing, transformed the photographer from printmaker to artist.

Biography of Edward Weston

Edward Weston Photo

The son of an obstetrician and his pragmatic wife, Edward Henry Weston was born on March 24, 1886 in Highland Park, Illinois. Before his mother's death when Weston was five years old, she urged her son to pursue a practical profession as a businessman. It was Weston's father and sister Mary, nine years his senior, who soon recognized his artistic potential and encouraged him to consider photography. Mary, who was only thirteen at the time of their mother's passing, became the dominant motherly influence in Weston's life. Their father recalled: "they grew up with a double love - that of a mother and son and a sister and brother."

Important Art by Edward Weston

Progression of Art
1922

Steel: Armco, Middletown, Ohio

It was during a trip to Ohio to visit his sister in 1922 that Weston came across American Rolling Mill Company (Armco) and, fascinated with the brute beauty of its industrial complex and giant smoke stacks, created this and other photographs of the steel works. A row of monumental, cylindrical smoke stacks flanked by warehouses that converge at their base and loom tall against the sky. This photograph and others in the Armco series mark a turning point in Weston's style from pictorialism's soft focus forms to straight photography's sharper resolution and detail.

Alfred Steiglitz was among the first to identify the clarity of this image and the choice of modern subject as signaling photography's emergence from the Victorian age into the Modern era. Had he still been publishing his magazine Camera Work at the time, he told Weston, he would have published these smoke stacks in it. Taking Steiglitz's praise to heart and deeply proud of his latest series, Weston took this Armco photo to Mexico two years later, hanging it alongside a print after Picasso on the wall of his studio for inspiration. There it remained even after Weston returned to California, in the possession of Tina Modotti until her death in 1942.

Palladium print - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

1925

Excusado (Toilet)

Weston created Excusado (the Spanish word meaning "excused" and a slang term for "toilet") during his second trip to Mexico in 1925. He channels the Duchampian concept of the readymade by taking this familiar, ordinary object and re-presenting it in an unfamiliar and artistic manner. By offering a frontal view of the toilet's base, its curving forms echoed in the patterned tiles below, Weston highlights the plumbing fixture's sculptural quality. The functionality of the subject remains apparent, but this new vantage point emphasizes the profane object's unexpected aesthetic elegance; while the commode's central placement within the composition as well as its dominance of space falsely suggest it is colossal in size.

It is no coincidence that Excusado, as well as Duchamp's Fountain photographed by Alfred Steiglitz eight years earlier, are very influential. Both encourage the viewer to reconsider the value of a banal object- the toilet. Because it best articulated the modernist tenet 'form follows function,' the toilet, according to artist Margaret Morgan, became the "grand signifier of 20th-century Modernism." For Weston, this image also foreshadows his series of high resolution, close-up photos of organic objects that he commenced upon leaving Mexico later that year.

Gelatin Silver Print - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

1927

Knees

Weston began photographing nudes - his largest series of close-up organic forms - in the early 1920s and continued over the next twenty years. Models included friends, family, and most frequently, his (many) lovers. While the body of this figure is not entirely exposed, nudity is implied by its inclusion in the series. The subject is seated with legs folded under and slightly askew, exposing knees and thighs, one in front of the other. Common among Weston's work at the time, his cropping and dramatic lighting create a high contrast image that encourages focus on the fleshy bumps and curves of the female form.

Similar to his straight photos of vegetables, shells, and landscapes, Knees exemplifies Weston's lifelong effort to capture the essence of ideal beauty. For Weston's second wife and model, Charis Wilson, the beauty of his nudes lay in "the rhythmic patterns, the intensely perceived sculptural forms, the subtle modulations of tone, of which these small, perfect images were composed." And yet Weston's nudes have provoked some Feminist critics to question why the artist, by so drastically cropping some of his nudes, sacrifices the individuality and identity of the sitter so that he may realize this goal. This issue not withstanding, Weston's nudes continues to be celebrated by artists and critics alike for doing something that no one had done before. As author Susan Sontag wrote, "he made nude photography respectable."

Gelatin Silver Print - SFMoMA, San Francisco, CA

1930

Pepper #30

In the late 1920s, Edward Weston began photographing what he called "still lifes" or individual ordinary objects at close range. Inspired by the bright, bold, simplified forms he observed in murals by Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco while in Mexico, the artist produced sharply focused portraits of subjects that prompt a reconsideration of their aesthetic potential. Pepper #30, one of at least 46 negatives he created of the vegetable over a two year period, is also the most famous of his pepper images.

Here, Weston captures a solitary, oddly shaped, bell pepper carefully placed inside a tin funnel that reflected light from above so as to highlight the object's bulbous contours. The result is an anthropomorphic vegetable that resembles two lovers intertwined, as in Auguste Rodin's The Kiss. Its three dimensionality is evident, despite the flatness of the printed image. Light brushwork along the bottom of the photograph adds textural interest and speaks to Weston's admiration for photographer Edward Steichen, who was known to manipulate his negatives during the printing process.

Weston described the pepper as taking "one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind," suggesting an affinity for modern surrealism. Indeed, one finds similarities between his Pepper #30 and Surrealist Hans Arp's curvaceous, even lumpy, sculptures created at approximate the same time.

Gelatin Silver Print - SFMoMA, San Francisco, CA

1931

Cabbage Leaf

As one of Weston's monumental close-ups, Cabbage Leaf heightens ones visual understanding of this vegetable with its solitary display of a flayed leaf. The raised spinal structure and linear striations of the wilted form emerge from a dark, flat background as though a piece of relief sculpture. This creates a subtle undertone of grace and movement within the work. Indeed, the cabbage leaf becomes a sculptural work of art in its own right, elevating the common edible to an object of fine art, and thereby supporting Weston's efforts to expand his audience's visual consciousness of the world.

Weston photographed arrangements of cabbage over a nine-year period, from 1927 to 1936. In keeping with the method of straight photography practiced by the f/64 group to which he belonged, Weston created a high-resolution photo that relies on the object itself for visual interest, rather than manipulating the surface quality of the image as pictorial photographers did. Cabbage Leaf in particular is imbued with a Surrealist quality in that it depicts an everyday object with great precision and yet makes the viewer aware of an otherness or strangeness that we do not typically associate with it. Author Susan Sontag, for example, notes the subject's resemblance to "a fall of gathered cloth," adding that its title heightens our appreciation of its beauty by declaring that the gentle folds of drapery we so admire are in fact the veined, wilted leaf of a garden vegetable.

Gelatin Silver Print - The Art Institute of Chicago

1937

Tomato Field, Monterey Coast

Weston's work often draws attention to the variable shapes and patterns found in natural objects and landscapes in a way that challenges the viewer's expectations of or familiarity with the subject. Tomato Field, Monterey Coast is a quintessential example of this. A field of tomato plants dominates the lower foreground of the photograph beneath a distant, slanted hilltop horizon at top. The aesthetic, reminiscent of collage, highlights visual juxtapositions, such as the contrast between a dark, clearly patterned foreground and a lighter irregularly shaped landscape or the flattening of the lower 2/3 of the picture created by the polka dot pattern versus the slightly varying sizes and spacing between plants that suggest a depth of field inherent to landscape. With this work, Weston forces the viewer to address the ways in which we visually interpret and experience landscapes.

In Tomato Field, Monterey Coast, Weston accomplishes what Paul Strand managed in Wall Street (1915) and his other photographs of New York City. But whereas Stand's photos transform urban man-made structures, objects, and the shadows they cast into abstract or geometric patterning, Weston relies on less predictable and more variable organic forms found in rural settings to meet the same end. In so doing, Weston effectively brought modern photography out of the city and into rural America and, like Paul Cézanne, Joan Miro, and other modern painters, challenged the traditional depth of field one expects from a landscape.

Gelatin Silver Print - SFMoMA, San Francisco, CA

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Content compiled and written by Kimberly Henderson

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Sandy McCain

"Edward Weston Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Kimberly Henderson
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Sandy McCain
Available from:
First published on 17 May 2016. Updated and modified regularly
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