The Hidden Brett Weston

February 6th, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Which photographers or influences inspired your interest in photography?

Philip Hyde with Edward Weston at Hill, Carmel, California, 1949, by John Rogers, a classmate of Philip Hyde's.

Philip Hyde with Edward Weston at Wildcat Hill, Carmel, California, 1948, by Al Richter, CSFA classmate of Philip Hyde. Edward Weston, who many consider "the most influential photographer of the 20th Century," lived a simple lifestyle and rarely manipulated his images in the darkroom. He produced mainly contact prints. He is listed as one of Ansel Adam's influences and credited with leading the development of Straight Photography on the West Coast.

Edward And Brett Weston In Mexico

Pioneer abstract and landscape photographer Brett Weston was the son of Edward Weston, who many say was one of the greatest photographers to ever live.  However, what most people do not know is that of the subjects both men photographed, Brett Weston did many of them first.

Chandler, Brett Weston’s older brother, wrote to Brett at home in California, while Chandler visited Edward Weston in Mexico. Chandler told Brett Weston they were having a glorious adventure south of the border. Under his dad’s lax or non-existent supervision, Chandler Weston was drinking and playing with guns and having a wild time. Brett Weston kept pressing his father to have his turn in Mexico. Finally after Brett Weston had a few run-ins with the police in California, Edward Weston gave in and the boys traded places in 1925 when Brett was 14 years old.

While in Mexico, Brett Weston made his first photographs that were more than snapshots. He printed with his dad and whiled away the days. Family photographs show the Westons relaxing with Diego Rivera and other artists. After 15 months in Mexico, Brett Weston returned to the U.S. and made his first abstract photograph, “Drive Shaft, Locomotive.”

Edward Weston Is Known For Some Subjects Brett Weston Photographed First

“People look at Edward’s photographs and say, ‘Oh Edward did the locomotive, so Brett did the locomotive,’” said Jon Burris, Director of the Brett Weston Archive. “But the fact is that Brett made his in 1927, and Edward did not make his until 1941. Sonya Noskowiak, who was an assistant of Edward’s—and who became a member of the Group f.64 (with Edward Weston)—made a similar image in 1937. But Brett was the first—and he made his when he was just 16 years old.”

Some of Edward Weston’s most acclaimed photographs of his last wife, model Charis Wilson, who passed on in November 2009 at age 95, were made in the Oceano sand dunes. Edward Weston’s photographs of sand dunes are “so prominent in the history of Twentieth Century photography, that most people believe he made them first and that Brett followed,” Burris said. “But that’s not the case. Brett began to photograph the dunes in 1932—two years before his father.”

Brett Weston also photographed a series of four surf scenes in 1939, looking down from the cliffs above Baker Beach in San Francisco. “Edward had photographed similar scenes a year or so earlier on the coast, north of San Francisco,” Scott Nichols said while talking to Black and White Magazine about his collection, the world’s largest of Brett Weston’s prints and portfolios. “Then Ansel Adams had done his famous surf series in 1940,” Scott Nichols said. “Brett’s predates Ansel’s by about a year.”

Brett Weston Influenced Edward Weston Who Inspired Philip Hyde

Many people see my father landscape photographer Philip Hyde’s cactus photographs and images of trees in Glen Canyon and suggest he was influenced by Brett Weston. This may be, but Dad saw little of Brett Weston’s work before he made his own cactus images and river trips through Glen Canyon with David Brower and the Sierra Club. Dad did make photographs that exhibit Edward Weston’s influence because he and his California School of Fine Arts classmates photographed with Edward Weston on Point Lobos on a number of occasions in 1948 and 1949. Dad and his classmates also visited Edward Weston at his home on Wildcat Hill in Carmel, California where they may have seen some Brett Weston photographs. Future blog posts will detail visits to Wildcat Hill and how Dad and several others from the class, camped in tents on Edward Weston’s lawn. Edward Weston reviewed student prints and showed his own. The print viewings often led to lively discussions. For more on Edward Weston see the blog post, “Edward Weston’s Landscape Philosophy Part 1.”

Edward Weston is said to have impacted all of photography. However, with the knowledge that Brett Weston preceded his father to various locations and subject matter, it has become accepted that not only did father influence son, but son also influenced father. Edward Weston on several occasions suggested as much. Brett Weston, through his father, Edward Weston, indirectly impacted Philip Hyde’s photography, and made an even larger contribution to the entire medium than is commonly known. For the story on how Brett Weston impacted Philip Hyde and his travels by selling him his Chevy Pickup see the blog post, “Covered Wagon Journal 1.”

Which photographers or influences inspired your interest in photography? Please share your thoughts in comments…

References:
Black and White Magazine interview of Jon Burris, Issue 8.
Black and White Magazine interview of Scott Nichols, Issue 11.
Brett Weston Archive Website
Photography West Gallery Website

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21 comments

  1. Richard Wong says:

    Good question David. The obvious answer would be Ansel Adams since he was the first landscape photographer that I became familiar with by name. As for true inspiration though that made a difference in my life, that would have to be Galen Rowell. I didn’t get his work initially by seeing it but when I started to read his books then it really changed my whole outlook on photography. If I hadn’t read those books I probably would never have pursued it as seriously as I have.

    Other photographers I consider to be an influence are William Albert Allard and Sam Abell, both of whom are long-time documentary photographers for National Geographic.

  2. Hi Richard. Great insight. I am not familiar with those National Geographic photographers. Always more to learn. All photographers owe a great deal to Ansel Adams whether they were directly inspired by him or not. My dad felt “indebted” to Ansel Adams for his contributions to the field and to Dad’s life and career personally. What about Galen Rowell’s books inspired you? Which book or books specifically would you recommend to someone interested in getting the same kind of inspiration?

  3. Richard Wong says:

    Hey David. Galen wrote a lot about connecting the intellectual side with the creative side, vision, etc… At the time it totally blew me away because “vision” is not something that most people think of. Usually people never get past the technique stage. Also, he was an amazing writer which is rare for photographers.

  4. Richard Wong says:

    As for books, Galen Rowell’s Vision, Inner Game of Outdoor Photography, Mountain Light. These are geared toward photographers. I have read almost all of his books including his adventure books too.

  5. Great input about Galen Rowell and what he said about “vision.” I will have to read some of his books. I have “Mountain Light,” also a Sierra Club book. Stan Zrnich, Dad and others even said what they learned from photography school with Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston was mainly technique. In those days some people contended that “vision” can’t be taught, but that kind of thing is taught all the time. Perception and awareness can be learned, just as most anything else, depending on the competence of the teacher and receptivity of the student. Dad used to regularly talk about developing the capacity for “seeing” deeply but he didn’t write much about it in his books. Dad wrote many articles and books, but I am not sure people would describe his writing as “brilliant.” The content was brilliant, just as what he observed, and his gentle and kind empathy with nature and life. He did some articles that were very good, and the text in the back of “Range of Light” is a delightful read. The photographs in “Drylands” are superb and the text is excellent in many places too. The text won several literary awards, but in my opinion, in parts it dries out a bit like the desert. His portion of Slickrock is good, though nothing compared to Edward Abbey’s portion, of course. They call Edward Abbey the Thoreau of the West and for good reason, though I feel his writing is better than Henry David Thoreau’s. Dad used to recommend other people’s books on the photographic process. One he mentioned more than once was, “Photography and the Art of Seeing” by Freeman Patterson. I am about half-way through it now. Have you read that one, Richard?

  6. Richard Wong says:

    I agree, David. You can definitely show someone that there is such thing as a personal vision. I think a really good teacher can bring that out of you though it is very difficult to do. I’m not sure that I would be able to articulate that very well either.

    I have heard a lot of recommendations on Freeman Patterson. I’m somewhat familiar with his work but have never seen his books so I guess I have to add that to my reading list.

  7. I have just added it to my recommended reading list in the blog post, “A Blog Intro.”

  8. David, are you familiar with Goodbye to a River by John Graves? A fascinating read and a classic in Texas. I’m a huge Edward Weston fan and I appreciate that he and Ansel Adams wrote so much about their lives.

    Sharon

  9. Hi Sharon, My dad had a lot of books on rivers and I have read many others, but I haven’t heard of the one you mention. I will look it up. I like to read all I can on the subject because it was a big part of my father’s work. You will probably enjoy an upcoming post on rivers and dams. I also intend to do a lot more reading of Edward Weston’s writings. I have the daybooks, but haven’t dug into them yet, mainly skimmed. Am reading Ansel Adam’s autobiography and enjoying it. Read his biography out loud to Dad after he lost his eyesight. We had both read it before because Dad is in it and has a photograph of Ansel Adams in it. Mary Street Alinder, who wrote the biography and helped with the autobiography knew Dad. She organized the TV show about Ansel Adams on the Outdoor Channel that Dad and I participated in several years ago. What writings of Edward Weston or Ansel Adams do you like?

  10. I’ve read the Ansel Adams biography and his autobiography and Edward Weston’s daybooks.

    Goodbye to a River isn’t a photography book but a great book about conservation.

    Sharon

  11. I just looked up Goodbye River on Amazon.com and put it on my wish list. It looks very good. What did you think of/learn from the Daybooks of Edward Weston?

  12. Sorry to be so long in answering, David. I’m in the middle of a project. One thing that stood out for me in Weston’s work was the confidence he had in his vision and his ability to involve others in fulfilling it. I think of people bringing him peppers to photograph.

    Sharon

  13. Thank you, Sharon, for taking time away from your project to answer. I look forward to reading the Daybooks and I notice I also have Nancy Newhall’s “Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston,” “Through Another Lens: My Years With Edward Weston” by Charis Wilson and Wendy Madar, “Edward Weston” by the Museum of Modern Art, “EW 100: Centenial Essays in Honor of Edward Weston” by Friends of Photography. As you may know, Edward Weston was a big inspiration for Dad. Stay tuned as you are able for upcoming posts on Edward Weston.

  14. Adler Chalk says:

    Outstanding Artist!

  15. Adler, thank you for the comment. I agree, Brett Weston is one of the all-time masters.

  16. Norene Vonseggern says:

    I wished to thank you for your time and for this excellent read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it.

  17. Hi Norene, thank you for visiting and the compliments. Please join in again.

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