Edward Weston (1886-1958) is regarded as one of the masters of 20th-century photography whose famed images of misshapen peppers, erotic sea shells, nudes in sand dunes and Point Lobos landscapes have influenced generations of photographers. Among them are three of his descendants, who, inspired by his genius, became strong photographers in their own right.
Their work is up with a selection of their progenitor’s prints in “Four Generations of Weston: Black and White – Edward, Brett, Kim, Zach,” on view in the main gallery at Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in midtown. It is the first time, note’s Viewpoint’s Executive Director, Roberta McClellan, that this amazing collection of black-and-white photographs by one of the most artistically recognized families in the photographic art world has been presented in Northern California.
“My work purpose, my theme,” Edward Weston wrote, “can most clearly be stated as the recognition, recording and presentation of the interdependence, the relativity of all things – the universality of basic form ...”
In the exhibition we see that relativity and universality in a pairing of images of a complexly reticulated shell and an elegant nude folded in on herself, each pristine in its purity, rich in metaphor. Edward Weston had a particular affinity for the nude figure, baking in steaming sand or lying in the cool shade of venetian blinds in a New York office, his camera capturing the fleshiness and humanity.
His sojourn in Mexico in the 1920s is chronicled in a famous portrait of Diego Rivera, who, along with David Siquieros and Jose Clemente Orozco, hailed Weston as a master of 20th-century art. Weston’s interest in indigenous Mexican people and art forms is evident in a haunting image of folded hands in front of a woven shirt.
It’s great to see a number of his prints, both famous and lesser known on view, but one wishes there were more. The rest of the family is well represented, however.
Brett Weston (1911-93), the second of the four sons of Edward and his first wife, Flora Chandler, began taking photographs in Mexico in 1925 while living there with his father and Tina Modotti, Edward’s apprentice and lover at the time. He began showing with his father in 1927 and was given his first one-man museum retrospective at age 21 at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 1932.
Ranging from images of New York in the 1940s – a street scene and a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge from an odd angle – to a whimsically abstracted image of a tide pool at Point Lobos in the late 1970s, they are the most tonally rich prints in the show. Favoring the high-gloss papers and sharp clarity of the f/64 Group, of which Edward was a founding member, images like Brett’s surreal view of Mono Lake have a depth and darkness that is unique to his sophisticated work.
Kim Weston, Edward’s grandson, grew up in a rural area of the Big Sur coastline and knew by the time he was 6 that he wanted to be a photographer. His first job was helping his father, Cole Weston, another of Edward’s sons, in the darkroom, fixing negatives. Later on, he assisted his uncle Brett in the darkroom for 15 years.
A prolific photographer, he inherited his grandfather’s affinity for the nude, which he photographs outdoors in dramatic architecture as well as indoors in painted sets that often have a surreal edge. There is a filmic quality to images like “Lauren and Horse,” 1998, in which a circus performer lies fallen under an abstracted horse. Others, like the witty “Cat in Hat,” exhibit a playful sense of humor and classical technique. Now in his 60s, he still shoots with film, develops his own work and prints in the darkroom.
With his wife, Gina, Kim offers photography workshops around the world. He and Gina exclusively sell his prints and Edward Weston photos from their private collection in their private gallery in the Carmel Highlands.
Their son, Zach Weston, who is in his mid-20s, grew up surrounded by classic photographs made by his great-grandfather Edward, great-uncle Brett and grandfather Cole. He was inspired to take photographs by watching his father build sets and photograph them with an 8-by-10 large-format camera. At age 7, he would rise early in the morning and meet his father in the darkroom to watch him develop negatives and print them.
After high school, with a few lessons in the darkroom, he began developing and printing on his own and still rises early to work in the darkroom, a Weston tradition. Like his father, he often photographs nudes, though with a more abstract and immediate approach. In “16N,” he juxtaposes a nude’s flowing hair with the flowing grain of the bark on a tree. In “7N,” he gives us a surreal image of a nude with a Mexican Day of the Dead mask, an homage to Edward’s Mexican imagery and a record of a continuing tradition that flourishes in California today. His subtle, intuitive images both honor his heritage and point to a bright future.
Four Generations of Weston: Black and White – Edward, Brett, Kim, Zach
Where: Viewpoint Photographic Art Center, 2015 J St., Suite 101, Sacramento
When: Noon-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday through June 4
Information: 916-441-2341 www.viewpointgallery.org