I first became acquainted with the photographs of Edward Weston when I was given the book California and the West for a Christmas present by my parents. Of course I can’t remember what year that was, nor the motive behind the gift. In the 50’s, certainly. Was I already taking train photographs at the time?
I found the book to be quite fascinating. The idea of roaming around California on obscure byways, stopping whenever the artistic impulse struck, was such a good idea. And there were other interesting nuggets of information; for example, Ansel Adams considered jellybeans and whiskey to be the really two essential items for a Sierra backcountry trip. I remember reciting this lore starting with my first camping trip. His wife Charis, who wrote the book and acted as chauffeur, had developed the knack of recognizing typical Weston subject matter; Weston could safely nap in the back seat knowing that she’d wake him up when necessary.
I became a Westonologist, acquiring the two-volume Daybook series, Ben Maddow’s exhaustive biography, and the prize (again from my parents), found at a used book store for a pittance: My Camera at Point Lobos. My most recent acquisition was a gift of a small book of Weston photographs from the Getty collection, complete with the transcript of a 7-person symposium on Weston’s works.
So—when was it?—the fact that I had gradually became disenchanted with Weston came as a little bit of a surprise. I think that—for various reasons—some work I did in the 1980’s brought me to an awareness of the lurking dangers of pretension and pompousness. Re-reading many of Weston’s Daybook entries one is certainly struck by the amount of ego involved. "This new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind. To be sure, much of my work has this quality." He is always out taking some photographs, coming back home, and then quickly writing about how he has just created a masterpiece.
And maybe he had created a masterpiece! That’s possible. But I’ve come to think that even if you think that you’ve just created a masterpiece it’s probably better just to shut up about it.
Photo: Mike’s Weston Books—Marin County, 2008