Edward Weston: Life Work

Karl and Bertl Arnstein Galleries

At precisely the same time that Frank Lloyd Wright uttered the then-blasphemous words that “the machine is no less, rather more, an artist's tool than any that he has ever had or heard of, if only he would do himself the honor of learning to use it,” another American artist was finding in a machine the medium through which he would, years later, cause his fellow men to become aware of the beauty and the significance of the commonplace. That man was Edward Weston, also of the middle West, also filled with the instinctive feeling for creation which the elders choose to term “rebellion.” -- Merle Armitage, 1932 Edward Weston: Life Work surveys the five-decade career of this American master through an outstanding grouping of 115 vintage photographs. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the private collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg. Most of the works were acquired from members of the Weston family. These include a large collection from his daughter-in-law, Dody Weston Thompson, as well as a Weston family album incorporating rare early self-portraits and landscapes. Previously unpublished masterpieces are interspersed with well-known signature images. Weston’s striking 1909 outdoor Pictorialist study of his wife Flora is perhaps his first nude. A 1907 landscape features a cow skull in the Mojave Desert, presaging by thirty years his later interest in death in the desert. A smoky view of the Chicago River harbor from 1916 pays homage to Alvin Langdon Coburn and Alfred Stieglitz but also anticipates the urban modernism in his famous image of Armco Steel, Middletown, Ohio, 1922. That photograph marked his final break from the confines of Pictorialism and studio work and announced the emergence of a sharply focused style. To see a chronological survey of Weston’s art “is to witness a purposeful and heroic shelling away of subjective addenda, of all the trimming that, to the average observer, transmutes a photograph into a work of art,” wrote the Mexican painter Jean Charlot. In the mid-1920s Weston unleashed his newly spare approach to photography in Mexico with his image of Tina Modotti, Tina Reciting as well as with Heaped Black Ollas and Excusado. Returning to Glendale in 1927, Weston continued to experiment with pure form and disconcerting scale shifts in his long exposures of shells, peppers, mushrooms, radishes and kelp. These memorable still lifes, which Weston termed “quintessences,” segue naturally into a remarkable set of sculptural nudes done in 1933-1934. Subsequently, Weston pulled back and loosened up his style considerably, as he turned to the open landscape. This exhibition includes an important suite of six dune studies made near Oceano, California in 1934 and 1936. In addition to landscapes and studies of desert detritus made with the support of a Guggenheim grant, portraits of prominent artistic and literary figures are also well represented. The exhibition concludes with Weston's consummate final photograph, nicknamed The Dody Rocks, 1948. An accompanying award-winning monograph published by Lodima Press contains insightful essays by Sarah M. Lowe and Dody Weston Thompson as well as “his and hers” collectors' prefaces by Hochberg and Mattis. Featuring full-size reproductions and printed in 600 line-screen quadtone on two different paper stocks for maximum fidelity to the originals, it is acknowledged as the most beautiful book ever published on Weston. This show is accompanied by a 30-minute video, Remembering Edward Weston, featuring interviews with Charis Wilson (his wife), sons Brett and Cole Weston, Beaumont Newhall and Dody Weston Thompson. Courtesy the Museum of New Mexico. All works are from the collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg.