Edward Weston is a renowned photographer, whose works influenced many aspiring photographers of the century. He was known as one of the masters of 20th-century photography. He created some of the most carefully composed and well-printed pictures of the time that continued to inspire people for over 60 years.
His subjects of interest were natural landscapes and things like shells, rocks, artichokes; all of which were captured with large-format cameras and natural lighting. Modern photographic styles have been greatly influenced by his poetic use of tones and the sculptural formal designs of his photographs. He was praised for being one of the most creative artists of the time who captured nature and connected it to an inner journey of mankind in a superb way.
Born in Highland Park, Illinois, Edward Weston grew up in the city of Chicago. In 1902, his father gifted him his first camera- a Bulls Eye 2. While working as an errand boy and a salesman at Marshall Field and company, Weston would sneak off to photograph various parks in Chicago. He also worked as a door-to-door portrait photographer in California. He was offered a place at the Illinois College of Photography, where he studied from 1908-1911.
Weston gathered enough financial resources to run his studio in California between 1911-1922. He mastered the Pictorial style, which fetched him many awards. The art displayed at an exhibition of modern art in San Francisco made Weston become more and more disenchanted and dissatisfied with his work. He shifted to experimenting with different styles like semi-abstractions in a hard-edged style.
He met notable personalities like Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand during his travels to New York. The photographs of ARMCO Steelworks,Ohio, captured by him catapulted his career to the greatest heights. Those were industrial photographs that showed the real face of such factories. He wished to record aspects of life and nature with the camera; it did not matter if the subject was made of steel, rock or flesh.
Along with his apprentice and lover Tina Modotti, who had been his subject for nude studies for many years, Weston opened a studio in Mexico city. Modotti achieved a lot of success for herself during this time and it was through her that Weston was acquainted with some renowned Mexican Renaissance artists like Siqueiros, Rivera, and Orozco; people who inspired and encouraged the photographer in him. He shifted to a study of the natural forms after giving up on the use of soft-focus techniques,once and for all. After moving to California permanently in 1926, Weston is said to have worked on the art he is most famous for- nudes, natural forms, close-ups and landscapes.
Weston and his son, Brett, opened a studio in San Francisco in 1928. The very next year, he started photographing at the Point Lobos area after moving to Carmel. That year the American edition of the Stuttgart Film and Foto exhibition was held by Weston along with Edward Steichen. He became one of the founding members of the f/64 group of purist photographers in 1932. This team included other notable members such as Imogen Cunningham, William Van Dyke, Ansel Adams, and Sonya Noskowiak. The same year he achieved another milestone in his life as the book ‘The Art of Edward Weston’ was published, which contained nearly 40 photographs taken by him.
In 1933, he was hired by the WPA Federal Arts Project held in 1933 in New Mexico and California. He was able to photograph extensively in the West and Southwest between 1937 and 1938 with the help of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Photography and incidentally he was the first recipient of this prestigious offer. His photographs of the South and East were featured as illustrations in an edition of Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’.
In 1946, The Museum of Modern Art, New York displayed 300 prints of Weston’s work.The following year, he began to explore color photography and even became a subject for Willard Van Dyke’s film, ‘The Photographer’.
1940’s onwards, his work was severely hampered by Parkinson’s disease. He had completely lost himself and had not much control over the photographs he clicked. It was in the year 1948 that he took his last photographs at Point Lobos. The following years only made him progressively ill and weak and hence, he was incapacitated to work any longer.
His life’s work was printed by his two sons Brett and Cole, while he supervised them. In 1952, his fiftieth-anniversary portfolio appeared. Three years later, some 1000 negatives of his work were retrieved and these were transformed into eight sets of prints. After years of hard work, fame, success and talent, Edward Weston breathed his last in Carmel in 1958.