So let me begin by telling you about the photographer Edward Weston. Edward Weston is considered a master of 20th century photography. His legacy includes thousands of meticulously composed photographs he made with an 8×10 inch view camera and superbly printed by contact on silver-gelatin photographic paper. In many ways he (along with photographers Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Brett Weston (Edward’s son) and many others) created the gold standard for how we photograph the natural world today. If you haven’t viewed his work, I encourage you to peruse the web site that Kim and Gina Weston (the photographer’s grandson and his wife) have created to honor and remember Edward’s photography along with presenting some of Kim Weston’s beautiful images as well. Ansel Adams may have said it best when he penned:
“Weston is, in the real sense, one of the few creative artists of today. He has recreated the matter-forms and forces of nature; he has made these forms eloquent of the fundamental unity of the world. His work illuminates man’s inner journey toward perfection of the spirit.”
When I began my life as a photographer, it was the work of Edward Weston that I found myself returning to again and again. There is something absolutely compelling about this man’s vision and his photographs that call you back again and again to look at them. They are nuanced and subtle and multilayered and beguiling.
So when I was crafting my letter to Santa this year I asked that jolly old elf for the new coffee-table book Edward Weston: One Hundred Twenty-five Photographs, a lavish volume set inside an elegant gold cloth slipcase and produced in a limited edition of only 2000 copies (to provide context, The Pelican Brief by John Grisham sold over 11 million copies).You can’t imagine my excitement Christmas morning when I tore off the paper to reveal a box emblazoned with a facsimile of the photographer’s initials written in his own hand. Inside was this magical book that presents 125 of Edward’s well-known images and many of his lesser known gems. Additionally the book includes reproductions of family photographs and assorted ephemera that help round out this grand tribute to this legendary photographer. The photographs are beautifully produced in duotone, a lithographic printing process that uses two plates, one that records the shadows in a photograph, usually with black ink, and another plate, probably a gray that prints the mid-tones and highlights with an ink chosen to suit the image. The process is capable of reproducing photographs that, when done well, can be, as they say, “the next best thing” to the original.
Without really intending to, I have been building a photo book collection for years and I have watched it grow from the 20 volumes or so that I began with when I was in college to many shelves filling my studio with books that I can only say have become like friends. I spend many hours pouring over the images found in these volumes, trying to divine the secrets held within the pictures in order to improve how I see. And I want to feed my muse; that mystical being that gently provides the guidance to look in a certain place to find the magic. Photography is something that must be practiced constantly, not only behind the camera but by studying great images too. Books allow us to do this in a very portable and often affordable way. I have come to see this process of study much like listening to great music over and over again, trying not only to understand its construction but also to unlock and understand its mysteries and surprises.
All of this brings me back to Edward Weston: One Hundred Twenty-five Photographs, an inspired presentation of this important photographer’s work. While the $250. price tag may shy you away from acquiring this important volume (currently available at Amazon.com) it is a work that belongs in every photo book collection. Think of this book as a piece of art in itself. And if you haven’t begun your photography book collection yet, may I suggest treating yourself to a copy of this book?