Day 239 of Colourisation Project – January 1
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
It was on this day, January 1, 1958, that Edward Henry Weston, arguably one of the most innovative and influential American photographers of the 20th-century, passed away, leaving the world with a photographic legacy that transcends time and place.
The Weston aesthetic of photography has impacted generations of aspiring photographers across the globe. Ask any photographer today, who has inspired their work, most will include Edward Weston as one of their strongest influences. I certainly never tire of looking at his images.
It is often said of Weston, the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, (1937) that his work reflects a “quintessentially American, and specially Californian, approach to modern photography”.
Weston considered himself a realist and refused to manipulate his images in the darkroom, preferring to work in the abstract forms found in nature with high-resolution detail in his photographs. In a career spanning 40 years, Weston photographed all manner of subjects and is probably best known for his strategically composed, sharply focused images of natural forms, landscapes, and nudes.
Born in 1886 in Chicago, Weston had originally been a leading exponent of Pictorialism, a movement dedicated to elevating photography’s status as a legitimate medium of fine art to the same level of painting and sculpture. However his work throughout the 1920s reveals a transition from a pictorial to a modernist approach.
Whilst Weston eschewed labels, he was instrumental in taking photography out of the Victorian pictorialist age, as advocated by Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secessionist movement, and into the new modernist world.
Encouraged by the loves in his life, photographers also, Margarethe Mather (1913 -1922) and Tina Modotti, (1922-1927) Weston’s shift was towards a more more radical style of photography. It was in Mexico with Modotti that the aesthetic was born. Weston produced a series of beautifully intimate nudes of Modotti, as well as a collection of the flora and fauna of the country’s arid landscape emphasising the rock and cloud formations.
In 1932 Weston became one of the founding members of Group f/64 along with other photography greats, Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham (author of today’s colourisation image) and Sonya Noskowiak. The name was chosen because they habitually set their lenses to that aperture to achieve maximum image sharpness.
The tonal quality of his black-and-white prints are of the highest technical quality and imbue his subjects, whether inanimate or human, with a heightened sense of drama. Weston could make a humble green pepper look like a modernist sculpture.
Weston wrote in his journals that his aim was to render “the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh”. Images of seashells that had been collected by Tina Modotti, were, in her words “transformed into something mystical and erotic”.
(A vintage print of one of his seashells, Nautilus, 1927, sold for $1,082,500 at Sotheby’s New York in 2010.)
From 1946 onwards Weston began experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. His last photo-shoot was at Point Lobos, California in 1948. He survived another ten years. Two years before his death the Musuem of Modern Art, New York features a major retrospective of his work.
Weston died at his home on Wildcat Hill on this day, New Year’s Day, 1958. His sons scattered his ashes into the Pacific Ocean at an area then known as Pebbly Beach on Point Lobos. The beach was later renamed Weston Beach.