Edward Weston And The Revelation Of Nature
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(To view more Philip Hyde vintage black and white prints see information about the Camera Obscura Gallery exhibition in the blog post, “Philip Hyde’s Mountain Landscapes Extended.”
Edward Weston’s photographs exhibit a strong sense of location, of place, of physicality and yet a universality. He showed us the extraordinary in the ordinary. Through details, textures, tactile sensations and the undulating forms of rocks, trees, nudes, ocean waves, vegetables and shells, he brought us the world.
In Edward Weston: On Photography edited by Peter C. Bunnell, Edward Weston explained his philosophy of photographing landscapes, at least at that time in his life:
I am not trying to express myself through photography, impose my personality upon nature (any manifestation of life) but without prejudice nor falsification to become identified with nature, to know things in their very essence, so that what I record is not an interpretation—my idea of what nature should be—but a revelation or a piercing of the smoke-screen artificially cast over life by irrelevant, humanly limited exigencies, into an absolute, impersonal recognition.
Creating Or Allowing
It can of course be argued that all photographers, indeed all artists, impose their personality on their creations. The “art as expression of the artist” argument holds aspects of truth, yet is not the whole story. A landscape photographer, or landscape philosopher, could go to the opposite extreme and say that once he or she reaches the proper state of attunement or union with nature, that he is no longer in the creation process at all. The landscape photographer then becomes a conduit through which creative forces flow. He has let go of attachment to his own ego and is moved, no longer acting as the mover. Some might say he is divinely inspired.
On a practical every-day level, each of us works in a range somewhere between these two opposites. Yet, is it healthier for the photographer to believe he is the one who has made the creation? I know of many photographers who believe they are the reason for their success, when there are thousands of factors and happenstances every day that could tip their career one way or the other. My father, landscape photographer Philip Hyde had his own particular method for keeping his ego in check. He attributed his photographs to God, or Nature, rather than taking the credit himself.
Check Your Ego Before You Go Out To Photograph…?
Odds are good that some manner of narcissism enters into either end of this continuum, while a healthy creative perspective is best maintained somewhere in the balance. Yet when photographing nature, is it not therapeutic to seek the purity of perception that Edward Weston and my father pursued? Some might say it is too idealistic, too filled with romanticism and self-delusions of a nature made enlightenment; but it seems a more attractive notion, in my opinion, than the puffery expressed by photographers who think their work is all about them. Perhaps ultimately either can lead to the other. Eastern philosophers say that one studies the self to eliminate the self.
Edward Weston is now considered by many the father of modern photography. He was an important inspiration to many of the world’s greatest photographers and his importance as a teacher of photography cannot be overstated, yet he only taught photography for a short period of time. Edward Weston had a great impact on Minor White, the lead instructor of Ansel Adams’ photography program at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. For more on Edward Weston’s influence on Minor White see the blog posts, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 12,” and “Minor White Letters 1.” Minor White and Ansel Adams invited Edward Weston and other members of Group f.64 such as Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham to guest lecture for Ansel Adams’ new photography department. This time period from 1945 to 1955, when Group f.64 members began to teach straight photography is commonly known as the Golden Decade or Photography’s Golden Era. For more about the Golden Decade of photography in San Francisco and the California School of Fine Arts see the blog posts, “Photography’s Golden Era 6,” “Photography’s Golden Era 7,” “Photography’s Golden Era 8,” and the rest of the posts in the series. For more information and a review of the special exhibition and reception honoring the students and teachers of the Golden Decade Golden see the blog posts, “The Golden Decade: California School of Fine Arts Photography,” and “Over 500 People Attend Golden Decade Opening.”
For more on how to avoid arrogance in the contemporary photographic world see David Taylor’s blog post, “Professionalism Tip for the Day.”
What do you think? What do you observe is the difference in outlook or philosophy between photographers who are arrogant and those who are not?