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  1. #1
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Discuss an Edward Weston photography

    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.
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  2. #2
    copake_ham's Avatar
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    If the subject was dead, isn't taking the photo, thus documenting the fact and place etc. "doing something"?

  3. #3
    juan's Avatar
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    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.
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    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.
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  5. #5
    jimgalli's Avatar
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    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.
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  6. #6
    Bill Hahn's Avatar
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    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....")
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  7. #7
    jimgalli's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Hahn View Post
    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".
    He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep..to gain that which he cannot lose. Jim Elliot, 1949

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  8. #8
    Bill Hahn's Avatar
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    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.....
    "I bought a new camera. It's so advanced you don't even need it." - Steven Wright

  9. #9
    Alex Hawley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mhv View Post
    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.
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    Marv's Avatar
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    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.

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