One of the most influential American photographers of the 20th century, Edward Weston pioneered the shift from pictorialism to abstraction in photography in the United States. He was born in Highland Park, Illinois, and grew up in Chicago. After studying photography at Illinois College of Photography in 1908, Weston spent much of his adult life in California. His treatment of mundane objects, nudes and landscapes as monumental and/or semi-abstract sculptures revolutionised the way Americans perceived photography.Read More
Weston initially worked in the accepted pictorial, Victorian style of photography. He opened a portrait studio in California in 1911, where he enjoyed moderate success. However, upon his visit to the ARMCO Steel Plant in Middletown, Ohio, in 1922, Weston found himself interested in abstract form and high-resolution images. The industrial photographs, with sharp edges of steel and machinery, exemplified what Weston and his contemporaries described as 'straight' images—truthful portrayals of reality.
For Weston, experimentation lay in commonplace objects. Between 1927 and 1930, he created monumental close-ups of seashells, peppers, and cabbages that often emphasised dramatic lighting and the subject's rich textures. Pepper No. 30 (1930), for example, shows a bell pepper resting inside a tin funnel. The sharp contrast between light and dark manipulates the surface of the pepper so it ceases to look like a pepper and begins to appear like an anthropomorphic sculpture. In its highly abstracted form, the image has been compared to the intertwined lovers in Auguste Rodin's The Kiss.
In 1932, Weston founded Group f/64 with photographers Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham and Sonya Noskowiak. Rejecting the notion of photography as a mere means to reproduce images, the association encouraged photographers to explore the medium's properties as painters had done with painting. Weston continued his earlier engagement with abstract forms, producing high-contrast images that forced the viewer to reassess photography's potential to express.
Weston's series of nudes and sand dunes in Oceano, California (begun in 1936) illustrates his radical approach to photography. Nude (Charis, Santa Monica) (1936), one of his most famous works, depicts his lover and, later, wife Charis crouching nude before the camera. As had been the case with his pepper images, the stark contrast of light and dark accentuates the form—in this case the curves of Charis' body—over the coherence of content. The human body becomes almost unrecognisable under the harsh lighting and exists only as lines and tonal range. Similarly, Sand Dunes, Oceano, California (1936), is an abstracted landscape. Dynamic contrast and a sharp depth of field highlight the details of sand, while the image appears as a landscape and a study of curves and shadows.
In 1936 Weston was the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. Ten years later, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, celebrated his legacy with a major retrospective. A photographer who has been remembered, Weston was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in 1984. His work can be found in many collections, including the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2017
Celebrated for making the ordinary look extraordinary — whether a pepper, a seashell or a sand dune — the California-based photographer created some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. 1. He was given his first camera on his 16th birthday Edward Weston was born in Highland Park, Illinois, in 1886. His father, an...