The Weston name is one of the most prominent in American photography. Edward Weston and his son Brett left a remarkable, lasting pictorial legacy that is quintessentially American and set standards for future generations of photographers. Their combined body of work presents the symbiotic relationship they had to the medium, to their commitment towards a clear and precise vision, and their familial bond, as father and son. Dedicating their lives to photography, the Weston's created an 'oeuvre' that became the standard for a modernist view that demonstrated a total break from Pictorialism. With a desire to record an unadorned world in a straight forward, unambiguous manner, they produced photographs that centered on sensuous and sculptural forms, rich tonalities, an aesthetically rich array of subject matter, and a range of scale from the close-up detail to a near panorama view of landscapes. The Weston's left American photography a cultural endowment still cherished to the present day.
Their legacy begins with Edward; after his father gifted him his first camera, Edward Weston started pursuing photography at the age of sixteen. Encountering success with his first published photographs, he moves from Illinois to California and becomes an itinerant photographer, traveling habitually and offering his practice as a mobile commodity. Later, Edward returns to Illinois to pursue a year-long course in photography, finishing in six months. Edward Weston marries Flora Chandler, with whom he has four children. Two of them, Brett and Cole, would later gain recognition as photographers in their own right.
In the 1920s, Edward Weston travels to New York and becomes acquainted with prominent artists like Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Georgia O'Keefe, to name a few. Realizing his earlier pictures, influenced by the style of Pictorialism, a Victorian ideal that compared photography to a painterly aesthetic, Edward Weston begins to create new work through promoting a direct, straight style of photography and recording his thoughts in his 'day book' journals. With this new modernist work, Edward Weston eventually rose to the prominence of a seminal photographer, capturing the American West and creating a unique and creative vision.
Along with changing the precepts of photography and becoming critically influential, Edward Weston, with the co-founders of the f/64 group (named after the smallest aperture of the camera which provided the sharpest image), helped usher in an era that considered photography as a legitimate, contemporary artistic medium. Unlike many of their European contemporaries, f/64 school photographers were often virtuoso dark-room printers who thought the exposed negative to be half of the complete photograph and the interpreting and printing of the latent image to be the other half.
Throughout this story and along his father's side, Brett Weston began taking pictures as a teenager in Mexico in the 1920s. Much like his father, Brett received a camera as a gift from Edward and started to forge his own photographic identity at the age of fourteen.
'(Brett) is doing better work at fourteen than I did at thirty. To have someone close to me, working so excellently, with an assured future, is a happiness hardly expected.' – Edward Weston on Brett
Surrounded by some of the best international artists of the time like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, as well as modernist Tina Modotti, who maintained a romantic and artistic relationship with his father, Brett Weston began to craft a vision where the literalness of what he photographed had strong, abstract compositional forms. He becomes one of the first photographers to understand and effectively use negative space. Using the camera to transform landscapes and expound the creative potential of contrasts using blacks and whites, Brett studied the formal components of an image, reducing his subjects to studies of lightness and darkness, composition, and form. By the age of seventeen, Brett participated in the influential German exhibition 'Film und Foto,' granting him international recognition that helped to establish an illustrious career that spanned seven decades.
In 1926, both Brett and Edward Weston returned to California from Mexico. They had moved to Carmel, California and were drawn to Point Lobos, where both would create some of their most consequential photographs. Brett Weston left his father's studio very early to pursue an independent path, undertaking sculpture and serving in the army. Later in their lives, Edward developed Parkinson's and could no longer take or print photographs. Brett returned to his father's side and helped his now world-famous father create a Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio and the later 'Project Prints' (a selection of 832 negatives that Edward Weston considered to be his best, which were to be printed in small editions.) Printing Edward's pictures next to him, Brett ultimately paved the way for the posterity of his father's legacy.
Brett and Edward Weston's photography created a cultural legacy that changed the history of photography. Their work, combined or independent, represents some of the essential and influential bodies of photography in the history of the medium. As father and son, they made an impact on American culture that is still referenced today and will continue to hold such influence and creative brilliance.
'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.' - Edward Weston