Points West and Weston

Susan Goldstein's Western photos at Edge, and Edward Weston's at Camera Obscura.

The Weston show is installed in the small front room and in the main gallery beyond. It's very elegant and looks like a museum exhibition. Weston took the photos on display between the 1920s and the 1950s. His son, Cole Weston, did these specific prints in the 1980s. The elder Weston bequeathed the negatives to Cole with the intention that he would do limited printings of them. Since Cole's death, the negatives have been turned over to the University of Arizona, which will not print any more for sale. That means those at Camera Obscura Gallery are the last of their kind. "There are some that I've never seen before, and there are also some of his most famous pieces -- the pepper, the sand dunes and the doorway nude," gallery director Hal Gould says.

The photos are from a Weston family member who lives in Denver but wishes to remain anonymous. "The owner of the photos attended the opening reception, but no one knew that," Gould says with a laugh. Gould is a noted photographer in his own right, and he's run Camera Obscura for decades, making it a Denver treasure by showing important photographs such as these.

Weston was born in 1886 in Illinois and took up photography as a teenager after seeing a photo show at the Art Institute of Chicago. He moved to California in 1905 and opened his studio in the city of Glendale in 1911. Originally a pictorialist, Weston turned to sharp-focused modernist imagery in the 1920s. (Having found his "voice" in modern realism, Weston destroyed his earlier pictorialist negatives, which, in retrospect, is too bad.)

"New American West II: Arizona," by Susan 
Goldstein, archival digital inkjet print.
"New American West II: Arizona," by Susan Goldstein, archival digital inkjet print.
"Nude 23," by Edward Weston, silver print.
"Nude 23," by Edward Weston, silver print.

Details

NEW AMERICAN WEST II
Through May 21, Edge Gallery, 3658 Navajo Street, 303-477-7173

Photographs by EDWARD WESTON
Through June 4, Camera Obscura Gallery, 1309 Bannock Street, 303-623- 4059

Though he soon achieved a national reputation and his work was shown in museums, his photographs were not sought out by collectors and could be purchased during his lifetime for as little as $2 apiece. (Even adjusted for inflation, this is a ridiculously cheap price for photos that now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.) "Weston left few prints when he died in 1958. There was no demand for them, and materials were expensive, and he was poor," notes Gould, who knew him.

In "Shell I," "Double Shell" and "Pepper #30," Weston isolates the subjects in such a way that they look like abstractions, though all he's done is record shells or vegetables or whatever in soft light. The details are crisp and clean, and his approach favors a tremendous degree of clarity. For the female nude, Weston used the same naturalism he applied to his other subjects. As with the shells and peppers, there is an abstract element to the nudes. The photos do have a pinup quality, but because parts of the body are cropped, they are clearly modernist works of art, and not simply cheesecake shots. (Later erotic photographers aped Weston's unblinking, in-your-face style, but few attained his refinements.) These nude photos are shocking for their date.

Many of the nudes have Tina Modotti playing the model, as she was Weston's lover at the time. There are many photos of Modotti in the show, but the real stunner is "Nude 23," taken in 1925. Though it's more than 75 years old, it looks very contemporary. Modotti would later go on to achieve her own fame in photography -- and in Marxist politics during the time she lived in exile in Mexico. In the '20s, Weston and Modotti, both from California, became involved with the art scene in Mexico and had close relationships with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, among other cultural movers and shakers there.

Very different in character from his nudes are Weston's famous landscapes. Suburban sprawl had mostly not happened during Weston's lifetime, so these views are innocent and lyrical, and not political in the way that contemporary Western landscapes often are.

The prints in this show are spectacular; son Cole was able to orchestrate an astounding spectrum of gorgeous grays. The closer you look, the better they are, and it's clear that they fully realize Weston's original intentions. His choice to leave Cole in charge of the printing was a good one.

Photographs by EDWARD WESTON is only halfway through its run at Camera Obscura, so there's plenty of time left to see it before it closes in early June. I recommend it wholeheartedly to everyone.

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