Friday, January 06, 2006

Edward Weston in Muskegon

I only found out about this because of an article in the Ann Arbor News. The Muskegon Museum of Art is holding a major Weston retrospective, which began on Dec. 10 and runs until Feb. 5. Edward Weston: Life Work promises to be a really nice exhibit, and I am driving there Sunday, along with some other local photographers. It should be a fun day.

In case you don't know -- I think very highly of Edward Weston's work. His breadth of subjects and attention to detail is unsurpassed by anyone else during his era. He managed to produce a large body of work, often under penurious conditions. Nonetheless, his fame slowly spread, and like many artists, his recognition in the larger art world came late in his life. He was not a self-promoter, and although early on he made a living as a portrait photographer, he really wanted to be free of that, and produce real art. Whereas Ansel Adams is the acknowleged master of western landscapes, especially Yosemite, Weston was a master of still lifes, landscapes, and form. He didn't just photograph his subjects, he sometimes slept with them, and in the case of Charis Wilson, married one. Weston's breakthroughs seems to take place when he was in emotional turmoil -- whether in Mexico with Tina Modotti, or later, with Charis. I use turmoil not in a bad way here. His passions stirred, they transferred to his art, too. Guggenheim grants allowed him to finally work and do his thing, and he and Charis travelled many miles across the USA to photograph for several projects.

Weston was a true artist -- he strived to get just the right image, and probably threw out many times more sheets of film than he kept. He kept his workflow simple. The final image was the thing. He kept at something until he got it right. He was never the teacher and experimenter that Ansel was, but he was a master of his craft.

There has been a lot written about Weston, but perhaps some of the best writings came from his own Daybooks, edited by Nancy Newhall. Ben Maddow's biography is a must read. Charis Wilson's biography is a wonderfully written book, too. One other amazing legacy from Weston is that all his sons were artistic, and Brett, his most famous son, was also a fine photographer. The legacy lives on with Kim Weston, who lives in Carmel, and carries on the family tradition of excellence in photography.

It's hard to pick a favorite photo, since Weston did so many that I like. If I were to have a wish granted that I could have any print that I wanted, which one would it be? I suppose it would have to be Head Down Nude, 1936 that has Charis with one knee up, her head down, and hands wrapped around her lower knee. A beautiful study in form and shadow. She's nude, but nothing's really showing.

I am looking forward to seeing the exhibit Sunday. While we are there, we hope to do some photography in Muskegon. Nothing that will rival Weston, but we probably will all come home thinking we shot at least one masterpiece. That's probably what Weston would have thought, too.

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