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DodhersEdward Weston: Giving photography its own autonomy

Edward Weston was an artist who sought to strip, along with his other generation partners, the pictoralist charge that photography had in the nineteenth century.

Edward Weston was an artist who sought to strip, along with his other generation partners, the pictoralist charge that photography had in the nineteenth century. His idea of ​​ “to make of the commonplace something unusual” has endured in photographic practice to this day. His “direct photography” was fundamental to grant the media a new statute: a self-autonomy as a particular, specific art form that shouldn’t borrow anything from painting or other arts. 

Edward Weston was born on March 24, 1886 in Highland Park, Illinois. He started his way in photography from a young age, when he was just 16 years old. He studied photography at the Illinois College of Photography.

Edward Weston

He moved to California in 1906, where he lived for many years and settled in a portrait studio in Glendale. In 1914, during his beginnings in a more professional environment, he co-founded the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles group. During the decade of the 20’s, after a trip to New York where he meets Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, he leaves pictorialism to devote himself to “direct photography”.

While married to Flora May Chandler, who was the mother of one of his children, he met Margrethe, who was his assistant and collaborated with him for 10 years, until he meets Tina Modotti, who changed the course of his life in an unexpected way.

For her (Modotti), Edward left everything he knew as safe, his family, his mistress (Margrethe), and his traditional way of living life. He emigrated to Mexico with Tina and during his time in that country, he met the painter Diego Rivera, whose influence helps him develop a more abstract style.

He opened another studio in Mexico and got immersed in the other artistic movements that came to life and existed at that time. He became part of the American culture of the 20th century and belonged to the American artistic avant-garde that ignored European culture. He also formed friendships with artists who belonged to the communist ideology such as Manuel Álvarez and Frida Kahlo, among some others.

He also began collaborating with stridentism by publishing in local magazines such as the El Horizonte and Irradiador. Later, in 1927, he returned to California and opened a new studio in Carmel, along with his son Brett.

Unlike the photographers on the east coast of the United States, who were more interested in portraying the urban atmosphere, Weston worked on landscape photographs, and that is when he did one of his most representative works in the Mojave Desert, which opened many doors to make more creative works.

Following this, he changed his technique and began to use a great depth of field and a high level of focus, especially in his landscapes and in the foregrounds of unusual natural forms, something that was clearly observed in his portrait photos and especially in the very first close-ups he made, obtaining an unusual perspective.

Later, in 1930 in New York, he made his first solo exhibition. In 1932, he was a founding member of the F/64 Group along with other renown characters such as Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Willard Van Dyke, Henry Swift and Sonya Noskowiak. 

This group was characterized by the creation of fantasy worlds, and a very loaded retouching, but also photos with a very marked focus, a composition taken care of to the last detail, a lot of depth of field and the complete control of the entire portrayed area. They proposed an aesthetic close to realism, which faces the previous pictorialist conception of photography.

He subsequently settled in Santa Monica in 1935, where he found places of great inspiration, such as the Santa Monica Beach and places with dunes. In 1937, he became the first photographer to obtain a scholarship from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. During this time, he made collaborations and works by request.

Together with Edward Steichen, he organizes the American section of the exhibition Film und Foto, in which the photographer Cecil Beaton also participates. His last work was carried out in the Point Lobos reserve in 1948, when he was already affected by Parkinson’s disease. In 1951, he was appointed honorary member of the American Photographic Society.

Weston died on January 1, 1958, at his home in Carmel Highlands, California. 

Tanya Akkari

Tanya Akkari

Having studied International Relations, there’s a present passion for different cultures, people and history which gives rise to an interest in learning and writing about all those subjects.

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