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  1. #1

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    Brett Weston - Photographs of Fifty Years

    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. #2

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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. #3

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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).
    Francesco

  4. #4
    c6h6o3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donald Miller
    When I first saw an 11X14 contact print made by Brett Weston almost twenty years ago, I was "put off" by the empty blacks.

    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.
    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."
    Jim

  5. #5

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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. #6

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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. #7
    Mateo's Avatar
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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. #8

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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. #9

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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.
    van Huyck Photo
    "Progress is only a direction, and it's often the wrong direction"

  10. #10
    mikewhi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donald Miller
    I just received, as a gift, an autographed copy of the Aperture monograph of "Brett Weston Photographs of Fifty Years".
    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

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