Brett Weston - Photographs of Fifty Years

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Donald Miller, Oct 23, 2004.

  1. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I just received, as a gift, an autographed copy of the Aperture monograph of "Brett Weston Photographs of Fifty Years". This volume was published almost twenty five years ago. Even though the images in the book are not actual prints, I am absolutely overcome with the beauty of his work. Very few of the one hundred images contained in this volume are of "things" or "places". The overwhelming majority of these images are about form, light, and shadow; the effective composition of form within space.

    When I compare the work of Brett Weston to the work that is shown in the "Portfolios of Ansel Adams" there is absolutely no comparison of the relative artistic expression of these two individuals, in my opinion.

    In Brett Weston's work I find an inherent sense of mystery and questions posed but not answered. By contrast in the images exposed by Adams there is nothing left to say. This leaves me with an emotional reaction to the work of Brett Weston and emptiness when I view the work of Adams. I realize that Adams was technically good...but I would venture that Brett Weston was the better photographer.

    When I first saw an 11X14 contact print made by Brett Weston almost twenty years ago, I was "put off" by the empty blacks. At that time I was enamored with the work of Ansel Adams, Howard Bond and others. My how my tastes have changed in this period of time.

    How do others feel about the relative merits of Brett Weston and Ansel Adams as photographers? Have you experienced an equivalent refinement of your sensibilities?

    I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
     
  2. TPPhotog

    TPPhotog Member

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    I can't comment on which is the better photographer as I'm trying to get away from that mindset. That said I prefer the work of Brett Weston as you say there is more mystery and I've also had a hidden love for "empty blacks". Sometimes being able to see into the shadows takes away the mystery of what might be there. Saying that I'd be happy to have the work of either on my walls.

    I think his underwater nudes are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen.
     
  3. Francesco

    Francesco Member

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    I am not a big AA or BW fan, althought I love some of their work. I can relate to both styles and do not necessarily agree that appreciating BW's work over AA's is a sign of one's sensibilities having refined. Sometimes the famous BW deep blacks works so well (in particular, in some of his natural abstracts) as to leave one breathless and sometimes it is annoying. Likewise with AA: some photos are just too "touristic" and others, especially pre-1940 AA are just too beautiful for words (e.g. Frozen Lake and Cliffs, 1932).
     
  4. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    Are you sure that the print you saw was a contact print? He made enlargements too, you know, especially in his later years. I've a friend who has an 11 x 14 enlargement of Garapata Beach which I think is a bad print - full of the blocked shadows you mention. The midtones are dull with no local contrast. However, on the wall opposite it there hangs a Holland Canal which is exquisite beyond words. I've never seen a finer print.

    I think Adams began to "play to an audience" after about 1940 and Weston listened only to his own inner critic until he died. As Aperture's obituary on Brett Weston put it:

    "Brett, like his prints, was an uncompromising and uncompromised original from start to finish."
     
  5. wm blunt

    wm blunt Member

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    To me this is almost like comparing apples to oranges. I enjoy some of the photographs of both but not all, as with most photographers work I see. I have an 8x10 print of Adams "Vernal Falls", of course it's the special Yosemite print by Alan Ross, and the blacks are amazing. They look like velvet and you can see deep into them and the whites look like whipped cream. The BW prints I've seen in person are totally different but not better or worse. They just reacted to what they saw differently.
    Wm Blunt
     
  6. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    I'm not familiar with Brett W's work, but am enjoying these threads! As for AA, I would say that in terms of complete photographers, he has been very much surpased. However, this is not fair as it ignores where he was on the developmental curve of landscape photography. You cannot say a Ford Focus is better than a Model T....In terms of his influence...well thats another subject. I think AA had great influce on the greats still alive who have more artistic flair, but also stunning technical skill. I think AA showed what could be done from a technical perspective. It would be worth me pointing out that I am a biology graduate. For me the natural world will always be hugely inspiring and moving, Therefore even great images like Edward Weston's peppers do not make the grade for me. Incredible light, sensual, but at the end of the day it is 'just art'. This may seem a ridiculous statement, but we are all made differently. I would however like to have been standing where AA was many times, taking in the scents, listening to the wind.....generally being in awe of what I was part of......getting cold!

    Tom
     
  7. Mateo

    Mateo Subscriber

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    When I need to see what an enlarged silver print should look like, I go to the Monterey Museum and look at Brett W's seaweed picture. I agree that comparing photographers is probably not worthwhile but prints by John Sexton, AA, Aaron Siskind(sp?), Rod Dressor, Hunt Witherill and Edward W are all withing feet of this print and it steals the show. Every time. And funny thing, I think Brett W's print is the only one from a medium format neg.
     
  8. wm blunt

    wm blunt Member

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    Back when I was trying to learn how to print silver you had to have a cold light head on your enlarger, use Tri-X and HC 110 because that's what Ansel was using. I had a chance to look at and hold in my grubby little hand Brett Weston's Tide Pool, 1981, most wonderful print I have ever seen. I figured it was an 8x10 contact because of the wonderful detail and metallic look to it. Found out it was an enlargement from a medium format neg. He was using a lot of Agfapan at that time and I believe in Rodinal and printed with a point light source. It had what he refered to as "Luminisous"(sp). Sorry if I got off the subject.
     
  9. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Comparing Master photographers is pointless. All one should do is evaluate your response to them.

    Recently saw an exhibit of Ansel Adams prints and they still take my breath away, almost as if his vision is superior to the real scene. There was one from the 50's that I'd never seen before which surpassed for me most of his more famous works. In latest issue of Lenswork Brooks Jensen talks about how photographers get certain works overly selected to detriment of many of their other works. Adams' pre-40s work is case in point.

    I've seen very few Brett Weston prints in person; but do have Art Wright's DVD collection of his images and they are stunning. But my reaction is more intellectual, viewing them as a pictorial koan. Different artist, different reactions.
     
  10. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    Congratulations, this is a great gift!

    FYI, this is a pretty collectible book, especially since it's signed. I have a pretty extensive photography book collection (500+ books), so I know what I'm saying. I have about 10 copies of the book, with 6-7 being signed. Be sure to take care of the book. Keep it out of direct sunlight or buy a UV protective cover for it. Careful when you turn the pages so you don't bend any. Don't let it sit on the book shelf as the binding may dry out and crack, take it out every once in a while and go thru the pages. If you live in a real humid environment, take steps to protect it from moisture. Store the book upright, not lying flat. If the book has the dustcover, buy something to protect it (like a UV blocking cover).

    Hang onto the book, not just for it's aesthetic value, but because it will appreciate in value over time.

    -Mike
     
  11. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    A couple of years ago, I saw an exhibition of Brett Weston's photographs at the Museum of Fine Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was my first time actually seeing his original work. I was pretty much floored. Did you know he was also a sculptor in wood? ("Wood carver" seems too trite a term.) Did you know his wood sculptures were based on the abstract shapes and shadows of his prints? A film accompanying the exhibition was interesting as well. Apparently he was one of those people who could do most anything he set his mind to do. He built the equivalent of a motorhome into a panel truck which allowed him to travel to remote areas and live in a self-contained manner while he did his photography. I regret that I failed to buy any of his books that were for sale in the museum bookstore at the time.
     
  12. Louis Nargi

    Louis Nargi Member

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    I don't beleave in comparing two great photogaphers with two differant styles, but AA was a more varyed photogapher then I think a lot peaple realize. At one point in his life he wanted to do some different type of photographs then he was known for. As a result, some of the most senitive steet phototagaphy I have ever seen.......discussion on art, San Francisco 1936,Trailer-camp Children,Richmond, California1942 Robert Howard,San Francisco 1960 to mention a few.
     
  13. mark

    mark Member

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    Apples and Oranges

    DOnald I think what you are saying, says more about you as a person than it does about the two artists. You have changed as has your vision and the way you look at the world.

    As to your question I would say that there is no way to compare the two. They really are as different as night and day. Adams once wrote to his father that the only way to interpret the what he saw and felt while in the sierras was to present the scene in a clean and sharp manner that did not leave anything blurred. To him the scene was beautiful as it was and with all of it's shapes and forms. He then set out to interpret the scene on the print to give a sense of what he was feeling at the moment while sticking to this vision. I personally think he did this very well in a way that I am unable to put into words. Like most feelings, they are there and they are indescribable. BW obviously saw the world in forms and lines, light and shadow. he did a really good job but his photographs do not speak to me at all.

    I am an Ardent AA fan. I can take or leave BW's work. If I am going to look at a Weston's work it is either Ed or Cole. Contrary to what has been said I do not believe anyone has been able to present the natural world with a feeling as deep as AA was able to, nor do I agree he has been surpassed artistically, but that is my opinion.
     
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  15. Tom Stanworth

    Tom Stanworth Member

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    I suppose you could. Alternatively you could read it and enjoy it for what it is and what it was made for. If (natutrally, when) I make it as a photographic megastar, I would chastise people who stuffed prints into dark drawers etc rather than display them. After my death, I would haunt them. Be warned. This means the odds of being haunted by me is approximately 1000 million trillion to one. You've been warned.

    Tom
     
  16. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Apples with Apples - Abstracts

    Why not compare apples with apples: who better portrays the abstract - Brett Weston, Aaron Siskind, Minor White, Paul Caponigro, Wynn Bullock ( love that tail light image on back of Lenswork), etc.? And what do you get/feel from viewing an abstract photograph?
     
  17. lee

    lee Member

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    who better portrays the abstract

    IMO, Aaron Siskind is the king of that style of photography.

    lee\c
     
  18. VoidoidRamone

    VoidoidRamone Subscriber

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    how about Man Ray? Also, while I was at RISD this summer I saw some Siskind prints in person, amazing stuff! It 'moved' me to writing my final paper for Art History on one of his prints (it's untitled, but it's the one where there is a close up of a hand holding a fish, sardine, anchovie, whatever it's called) -Grant
     
  19. VoidoidRamone

    VoidoidRamone Subscriber

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    http://photography.about.com/gi/dyn...hes/ccp/education/guides/sisyavgd/tchguid.htm
    I thought this site fit with this topic. Pretty interesting. -Grant
     
  20. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    The thing that has always struck me about Brett's images is how meticulous he composed his images. Not just placement of subject matter, but the balancing of volume against open space, how the tonalities play off against each other in the print.

    The great photographers have always had the ability to build an image that holds multiple layers of beauty and intrigue. Brett along with Siskind, Paul Strand, Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan are such artists.

    If you ever have the opportunity to see a print of Brett's Garapata Beach, 1954 Go out of your way to view it. It is one of the most beautifully composed and thought out images in any medium. It is nothing short of genius.

    I think Adams had the ability to make magical images. But I think most of his stuff is basically greeeting card stuff. Of course I am probably jaded because i have seen his work in a million publications, callenders, posters etc, and seen a million images by people who have sought out his tripod holes.

    But there are the ones that really grab me and hold on. Moonrise is one of them, but I think Mount Williamson, Manzanor CA ( the one with the boulder field in the foreground) especially has that mystical, lyrical quality.
     
  21. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

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    Jim,
    I just joined and found this forum on my favorite topic: these old masters of the medium. I too would recommend finding a print of Garrapata Beach and spending a long time with it. It is, in fact, the very image that galvanized me 23 years ago into working in black and white. I had never seen anything like it before. Stopped me dead in my tracks. In my mind, no work of any medium surpasses the movement, space (negative and positive), light and form of this photograph. Even looking at it upside down is interesting, the way he would have seen it on the ground glass. First chance I got, I went down there (Carmel seacoast) looking for the same rocks. I think the big one on the left broke off and washed away years ago.
    Anyway, thanks for your posting, and a chance for me to wax nostalgic about my favorite picture.
     
  22. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    On my nightstand I have "Ansel Adams at 100", "Edward Weston: The Last Years in Carmel", and "Brett Weston: Voyage of the Eye". I've thought a lot about all three artists, but rarely in a comparative way. When I look at the AA book, which covers his entire career, I'm struck by the completeness of it...mistakes and all (and there are mistakes; really bad printing decisions made in the 60's and 70's of older work that was far more beautifully rendered.). It leaves me satisfied. On another night, looking at the EW book, I'm struck by the mystery of his work. There's so much to keep coming back to...so many images I think I understand and then see differently at another time. And then there's the BW book which has the most marvelously abstracted images of the three, and the one I would like to most emulate. But I never feel one is better than the other...they're each so individual and different.

    At the coming AIPAD show where everyone's work is sitting in bins and hanging on panels, I'll have another chance to get my annual 'hold the prints in my hand and try not to get drool on them' fix. Can't wait.
     
  23. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

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    Comparison?

    Its good that we discuss issues like this here on APUG once and awhile.I'm proud owner of the book: Brett Weston; Master Photographer. Brett will always have a special place in my heart. I truly wonder how much of either of these guys work we have really seen in person. I recall viewing a print AA had made in the 40's. Just a simple 5x7 contact print it was. It was so unlike his other hyped photographs and even though it was tiny had that special glow. Having been involved in LF for over 30 years I know how hard the really BIG landscape stuff is to pull off. It may look easy but its not. Brett had a very personalized view of the world and it shows in his photos. I'm sure that he didn't want to make pictures like his father. He moved much further into the abstract. If it works for you fine;if not then move on! On an aside we as photographers should be always looking and if possible buying prints. That's how we learn. That's how we learn to print. At least that's what I used as a guideline. The greats were great for a reason. Prints are the best textbook anyone could ever find.
    Regards Peter
     
  24. lee

    lee Member

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    peter,

    I liked what you said there. Nice going...

    lee\c
     
  25. matt miller

    matt miller Subscriber

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    Right on man. I just wish I could afford to buy more of them.
     
  26. Peter Schrager

    Peter Schrager Subscriber

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    Thanks!

    Thanks Lee and thanks Matt! That's very nice! I'm still hoping to lead a group for LF when we all meet in Toronto '06. I'm going to make prints to hand out so that people can have a first-hand look at what a fine print looks like.
    Peter