PDA

View Full Version : Discuss an Edward Weston photography



Michel Hardy-Vallée
09-21-2006, 11:45 AM
There was a discussion over at Mike Johnston's blog about Jerry Spagnoli's daguerreotype of 9/11 that piqued my curiosity about the "why did you take a picture instead of doing something?" reaction that occurs when we see shocking or emotion-laden pictures.

Well, there is an Edward Weston picture about which I do wonder: what did he do after he took the picture, and does it matter or not? His picture of a dead man in the Mojave desert remind me a lot of his picture of a dead bird on the beach. It's very quiet, well composed, and is a type of "found object" for lack of a better term. It is very coherent with the rest of his still life pictures in terms of style and point of view. I personally feel that the photo has sympathy for the man depicted.

I do not have the historical background around that picture, so I don't have a strong opinion because maybe he just called the cops afterwards. If someone knows, please bring that information to the discussion, and make some argument as to what it does to the picture.

And finally, I don't want this thread to turn into a 9/11 thread. That is not the point here. Moderators, be on guard, please.

copake_ham
09-21-2006, 11:53 AM
If the subject was dead, isn't taking the photo, thus documenting the fact and place etc. "doing something"?

juan
09-21-2006, 12:01 PM
Charis describes the incident in Through Another Lens. She says this was not the best photograph Weston took of the dead man - but that she had mixed up negative holder numbers and the best photograph was double exposed.
juan

doughowk
09-21-2006, 12:12 PM
She also describes the incident in California & the West; and they did notify the sheriff, who I believe said he was lucky because the deadman was in another's jurisdiction.

jimgalli
09-21-2006, 12:19 PM
They were like a million miles from anywhere down in the desert between San Diego and Tucson iirc. It was well over 100 degrees, summer 1939 and there was no AC in the '38 Ford Tudor. They would have disturbed a possible scene that needed to be investigated if they had drug the smelly bugger into the back seat of the Ford and driven 2 hours to the sherrif. They did exactly the right thing, notifying authorities ASAP after the photo. It's not my favorite Weston photo by a long stretch.

Bill Hahn
09-21-2006, 12:30 PM
Unfortunately, what I think of when I see this photograph is Ansel Adams' response when Weston mentioned this incident in a letter. Adams basically regretted that the corpse wasn't the photographer William Mortensen. ("Too bad it isn't our friend....")

jimgalli
09-21-2006, 12:58 PM
Adams basically regretted that the corpse wasn't the photographer William Mortensen. ("Too bad it isn't our friend....")

Now that was truly "bad form".

Bill Hahn
09-21-2006, 07:41 PM
Now that I've gotten home, and can refer to my books:

Letter from AA to EW June 3, 1937

"My only regret is that the identity of said corpse is not our Laguna Beach
colleague. I am convinced there are several stages of decay."

I've met photographers who knew Adams and were treated with great generosity by him, and comments like this seemed out of Adam's character to me. And recently I read Adams' autobiography, where he includes a letter he sent Mortensen where he basically says that photography will be better off when he [Mortensen] "negotiates oblivion". I was shocked again....both by his animosity, and the fact that he would include the episode in his autobiography....

Sorry for bringing in this history...if I saw this image by an unknown photographer, and knew that his wife had spoiled an even better shot, I would wonder about the composition in the spoiled shot, and admire the diagonal composition of the photo in front of us.....

Alex Hawley
09-21-2006, 07:51 PM
I personally feel that the photo has sympathy for the man depicted.

I do not have the historical background around that picture, so I don't have a strong opinion because maybe he just called the cops afterwards. If someone knows, please bring that information to the discussion, and make some argument as to what it does to the picture.

I agree with sympathy; I think it shows. I've been told by family members that deaths such as this were pretty common in those times. Not unusual at all to find someone near a road or railroad having died from exposure, malnutrition or any of the various maladies. People took at as one of the unfortunate realities of the era.

Marv
09-21-2006, 09:36 PM
The first time I saw the image was early in my studies of who I considered masters. I had discovered Weston and it was while studying one of his books I was introduced to this image. An image I haven't studied for some time.

I remember being disturbed by the image. Disturbed on many levels; the sadness of the circumstances; my wonder at why one would create an image first and respond later; not the least my fascination with such a morbid image. It had a solemn beauty and I felt honored the individual in the way it was presented.

I felt the image gave me a window into the artist soul. To me Weston was a photographer first. Capturing the moment for me to discover years later. It gave me a new perspective on the craft and a sensitivity to the subject. Later I came to realize that in some ways Weston was a photographer only; so many of his other relationships floundered yet his photography remained intact.

It was a profound experience and it has only been well after my first encounter with the image that I realized the impact it had on me.

Charles Webb
09-21-2006, 11:25 PM
This image has always raised goose bumps for me, I have never heard anything other than Charis's mention of it in her book. Have always felt it was simply a record of the discovery. Technically I guess it is just fine, but the subject matter to this day rattles me.

Charlie............................

JBrunner
09-21-2006, 11:37 PM
"And what does anyone know of my past years work?
1300 negatives - 21,000 miles of searching. No, I have not done "faces and postures," except one dead man (wish I could have found more) and many dead animals; but I have done ruins and wreckage by the square mile and square inch, and some satires."

Edward Weston - 1938

catem
09-23-2006, 12:33 PM
"And what does anyone know of my past years work?
1300 negatives - 21,000 miles of searching. No, I have not done "faces and postures," except one dead man (wish I could have found more) and many dead animals; but I have done ruins and wreckage by the square mile and square inch, and some satires."

Edward Weston - 1938

That "wish I could have found more" is an odd one. I wonder what he meant by that, and what kind of photographic journey he was on there (or would have like to have been on).

It's hard to make a judgement without knowing more about his attitude to the person, the dead body, and his reasons for taking the photo. The image itself I find sad, (any death, alone like that, is very sad, but also he's young..), it's also rather beautiful. It seems as if he just fell asleep. I can't help thinking of the documentary I saw a few days ago on Sally Mann which included her most recent work, lots of images. Much more difficult images than this. Yet acceptable to me (I think) because of the care and consideration of her approach, her clear reasons for doing what she was doing. And the way her body of work transcends any individual photograph because it makes us think about the difficult issues of death and what death means.

I don't know Weston's reasons for taking this - and his wish for more bodies - so I feel I definately have to reserve judgement about his motives and intentions.
Cate

cowanw
09-23-2006, 04:41 PM
Now that I've gotten home, and can refer to my books:

Letter from AA to EW June 3, 1937

"My only regret is that the identity of said corpse is not our Laguna Beach
colleague. I am convinced there are several stages of decay."

I've met photographers who knew Adams and were treated with great generosity by him, and comments like this seemed out of Adam's character to me. And recently I read Adams' autobiography, where he includes a letter he sent Mortensen where he basically says that photography will be better off when he [Mortensen] "negotiates oblivion". I was shocked again....both by his animosity, and the fact that he would include the episode in his autobiography....
Sorry for bringing in this history...if I saw this image by an unknown photographer, and knew that his wife had spoiled an even better shot, I would wonder about the composition in the spoiled shot, and admire the diagonal composition of the photo in front of us.....

Apparently adams so disliked Mortensen that he conspired to exclude Mortensen's archives from being accepted at any academic repository, fortunately failing for the sake of photographic history
Bill

JBrunner
10-12-2006, 06:33 PM
That "wish I could have found more" is an odd one. I wonder what he meant by that, and what kind of photographic journey he was on there (or would have like to have been on).

It's hard to make a judgement without knowing more about his attitude to the person, the dead body, and his reasons for taking the photo. The image itself I find sad, (any death, alone like that, is very sad, but also he's young..), it's also rather beautiful. It seems as if he just fell asleep. I can't help thinking of the documentary I saw a few days ago on Sally Mann which included her most recent work, lots of images. Much more difficult images than this. Yet acceptable to me (I think) because of the care and consideration of her approach, her clear reasons for doing what she was doing. And the way her body of work transcends any individual photograph because it makes us think about the difficult issues of death and what death means.

I don't know Weston's reasons for taking this - and his wish for more bodies - so I feel I definately have to reserve judgement about his motives and intentions.
Cate

I think the "wish I could have found more" was more a comment on how EW felt at that time about the work that he was doing. He often commented on if a negative was "important" or not, in regard to the body of photographic work (his, and others)

Claire Senft
10-13-2006, 07:50 AM
I rather prefer Weston's photos of live women to dead men. From what I understand, he did do something other than just photographing the ladies.

Donald Miller
10-13-2006, 12:38 PM
My personal impression of Weston was that he was a human being first and a photographer second. The pursuit of his photography was the means by which he explored and also expressed his humanness in the world about him.

Weston had a "life view" not well aligned with the traditional "Christian majority" of the segment of the world that he inhabited. I mean this not in a derogatory sense. What I mean by this is that Weston was well established in the belief that all things are interconnected and the individual "things" merely representative "particles" of a much larger all inclusive "whole". I would take it that from this orientation that to Weston a dead man in the desert was as much a part of this realm as a nude, a pepper, shell, or a mexican woman grinding maize.

On the basis of composition, this photograph with it's diagonal orientation of the subject creates a sense of energy and tension in it's own right. A noteworthy thing, I think...considering Weston's view of life.