Edward Weston: 1886-1958

Cabbage Leaf-Edward Weston-1931

Born on March 24, 1886 in Highland Park, Illinois, Edward Henry Weston was a major American photographer and co-founder of Group f/64.

Weston began taking pictures at the age of sixteen when he received a Bull’s Eye #2 camera from his father. His first photos were of the parks of Chicago and his aunt’s farm. His first photograph was published in Camera and Darkroom in 1906.  That same year, Weston moved to California where he sold his photographic services door to door, taking pictures of children, pets, and funerals.

In 1908, Weston moved back to Illinois and began his studies at the Illinois College of Photography. Completing the 12 month course, in six months, Weston returned to California where he gained employment as a re-toucher at the George Steckel Portrait Studio in Los Angeles. In 1909, Weston joined the Louis A. Mojoiner Portrait Studio as a photographer. In that same year, he married Flora Chandler with whom he had four children.

In 1911, Weston opened his own portrait studio in Tropico, California where he would remain for the next twenty years. He worked in a soft-focus, pictorial style which won him numerous exhibitions and professional awards. He gained an international reputation for his high key portraits and modern dance studies. Magazines such as American Photography, Photo Era, and Photo Miniature published articles about his work and Weston himself wrote many pieces for these publications.

In 1922, Weston visited the ARMCO Steel Plant in Middletown, Ohio. The photographs taken there began a turning point in his career. During this time, Weston turned away from his Pictorial style and placed a new emphasis on abstract form and sharper resolution of detail. “The industrial photographs were true straight images: unpretentious, and true to reality.” 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 strove to capture the formal essence of his subject matter and present it as a revelation. Emphasizing line, careful cropping, and the interplay of shadows and light, Weston turned peppers, cabbages, egg slicers, rocks, and roots into objects of mystery and wonder.”

In 1923, Weston moved to Mexico City and opened a photographic studio with his apprentice and lover Tina Modotti. Many portraits and nudes were taken during this time and famous artists such as Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Jose Orozco hailed Weston as the “master of 20th century art.”

Weston returned to California in 1926 and began his work for which he is most famous: natural forms, close-ups, nudes, and landscapes. Between 1927 and 1930, Weston made a series of  close-ups of seashells, peppers, and halved cabbages, bringing out the rich textures of their sculpture-like forms. In 1929, he moved to Carmel, California where he photographed his well known images of rocks and trees at Point Lobos.

In 1932, Weston joined with Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham and Sonya Noskowiak as a founding member of Group f/64. The group’s aim was to promote a “new Modernist aesthetic that was based on precisely exposed images of natural forms and found objects.” The optical term was chosen because they frequently set their lenses to that aperture to secure maximum image sharpness of both foreground and distance.

In 1936, Weston began a series of nudes and sand dunes in Oceano, California, which are considered to be some of his best work. That same year, he became the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship for  his experimental work. Weston spent the next two years taking photographs in the West and Southwest United States with assistant and future wife Charis Wilson.

In 1946, the Museum of Modern Art in New York featured a major retrospective of 300 prints of Weston’s work.  In 1948, with advancing Parkinson’s disease,  Weston took his last photograph.

Weston’s 50th Anniversary Portfolio was published in 1952 and a larger project known as “the Project Prints” took place between 1952 and 1955.  These were a series of 8 -10 prints from 832 negatives considered to be Watson’s best photographs. In 1956, the Smithsonian held the show, “The World of Edward Weston” honouring his accomplishments in American photography.

Edward Weston died on January 1, 1958 at his home, Wildcat Hill, in Carmel, California. His ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Pebbly Beach at Point Lobos.

Sources: Edward Weston.com, Wikipedia, Getty Museum,

Related Books:
Edward Weston: The Form of the Nude (Monographs)

Edward Weston’s Book of Nudes

In Focus: Edward Weston: Photographs From the J. Paul Getty Museum