Edward Weston was renowned as one of the masters of 20th century photography. His legacy includes several thousand carefully composed, superbly printed photographs which have influenced photographers around the world for 60 years. Photographing natural landscapes and forms such as artichoke, shells, and rocks, using large-format cameras and available light. Weston's sensuously precise images raise to the level of poetry. The subtle use of tones and the sculptural formal design of his works have become the standards by which much later photographic practice has been judged. Ansel Adams has written: "Weston is, in the real sense, one of the few creative artists of today. He has recreated the matter-forms and forces of nature; he has made these forms eloquent of the fundamental unity of the world. His work illuminates man's inner journey toward perfection of the spirit."
Edward Henry Weston was born in Highland Park, Illinois, and raised in Chicago. He attended Oakland Grammar School and received his first camera, a Bull's-Eye #2, from his father in 1902. He began photographing in his spare time in Chicago parks while working as an errand boy and salesman for Marshall Field and Company. In 1906 Weston traveled to California where he worked as a door-to-door portrait photographer. From 1908 to 1911 he attended the Illinois College of Photography, spending his summers in California working as a printer in photographic studios.
Weston operated his own portrait studio between 1911 and 1922 in Tropico, California. He became successful working in a soft-focus, Pictorial style, winning many salon and professional awards. After viewing an exhibition of modern art at the San Francisco World's Fair in 1915, Weston became more and more dissatisfied with his own work. By 1920 he was experimenting with semi-abstractions in a hard-edged style.
In 1922 Weston traveled to New York City, where he met Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Charles Sheeler. His photographs of the ARMCO Steelworks in Ohio at this time marked a turning point in his career. These industrial photographs, similar to work by Sheeler, were true "straight" images: unpretentious, and true to the reality before the photographer. Weston later wrote, "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."
Weston opened a San Francisco studio with his son Brett in 1928. The following year he moved to Carmel where he began photographing in the Point Lobos area. He organized with Edward Steichen the American section of the 1929 Stuttgart Film und Foto exhibition at this time. In 1932 Weston was a founding member of the f/64 group of purist photographers along with Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham, and Sonya Noskowiak. The Art of Edward Weston, a book of nearly 40 photographs, was published the same year.
A major retrospective of 300 prints of Weston's work was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1946. Weston began experiments with color photography the following year, and was the subject of a film, The Photographer, by Willard Van Dyke.
Weston's work of the late 1940s was hampered by Parkinson's disease. He took his last photographs in 1948 at Point Lobos. During the next 10 years of progressively incapacitating illness, Weston supervised the printing by his sons, Brett and Cole, of his life's work. His Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio appeared in 1952. Three years later, eight sets of prints from 1000 Weston negatives were produced. Weston died in Carmel in 1958.
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