Maverick American photographer Edward Henry Weston was born to Edward Burbank and Alice Jeanette Brett Weston in Highland Park, Illinois on March 24, 1886. After his mother's death in 1890, he was raised primarily by his older sister May, who would have a profound influence upon his life. After she married and moved to Tropico, California (and later to Middletown, Ohio), young Edward became a frequent visitor and remain in close contact throughout his life. His life changed forever in 1902 when his father gave him a snapshot camera for his 16th birthday. His love for photography became so all consuming that he quit high school for a career as a photographer.
He lived with his sister in California for two years, barely making a living through various odd jobs and selling instant family photographs door to door. Mr. Weston moved to Chicago in 1908 to study portrait photography at the Illinois College of Photography, and married schoolteacher Flora May Chandler the following year. The marriage did not last, but produced four children, two of whom became successful photographers in their own right.
Mr. Weston was making a living as a commercial photographer, but sacrificed income for the sake of artistic pursuits. He soon became an award-winning pictorialist photographer, and by 1917 served as an acting member of the London Salon of Photography. Along this time, he began composing what became known as his "Daybooks", a journal of his life and photographic philosophy. He wrote, "The approach to photography must be through another avenue, that the camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh."
He met Italian photographer and actress Tina Modotti in 1921. She would become his lover and his benefactress. She was responsible for arranging Mr. Weston's cubist photography exhibit in Mexico City, which received an enthusiastic reception. On a visit to New York, Mr. Weston's work was shown to prominent photographers Clarence White and Alfred Stieglitz. Mr. Stieglitz - himself known for his avant-garde photographic style, issued some harsh but constructive criticisms.
After moving to Mexico with Miss Modotti in 1923, Mr. Weston began distancing himself from pictorialist photography and experimented with modernist photography. His artistry was further influenced by the Mexican Renaissance and its most creative innovator, muralist Diego Rivera. Weston never worked with professional models; he much preferred the natural poses of friends and lovers, which included several controversial nude portraits.
When the relationship with Miss Modotti ended, Mr. Weston returned to California, opening a studio with his son Brett in San Francisco, and permanently settling in Carmel. The beaches of Carmel and its rocky coastline served as infinite sources of artistic inspiration. During this period, Mr. Weston was briefly associated with the Group f/64, which included photographers Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams, but believed their artistic vision was too limited.
In 1937, Mr. Weston became the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim grant. He continued pursuing photography on his own terms, until the onset of Parkinson's disease slowed his output considerably. By 1948, he relied heavily on his photographer sons Edward Chandler and Brett for assistance. Mr. Weston died in his beloved Carmel on New Year's Day 1958. Along with Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston helped define the twentieth-century modernist photography genre.
1973 The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Vol. I (New York: Aperture), p. 54.
2005 In Focus: Edward Weston (Los Angeles: Getty Publications), p. 6.
2007 Edward Weston's Book of Nudes (Los Angeles: Getty Publications), p. 10.
2010 American National Biography, pp. 1-2.
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