"Who is the greater photographer or artist. Is it the Adams and Westons of the world, or the long forgotten neighborhood or small town photographer? Which leaves the greater legacy behind? Who touches the most lives."
It really is a question of two disparate things that cannot really be compared.
The painter Alfred Leslie once said, " There is a direct relationship between what we see and the quality of life." In the context of his writing, "what we see" referred to "how much we see." There is no question, to me anyhow, that Weston's photographs once enabled me to literally see more, and it is my hope that my photographs will do the same for others. To me, the photographs that do that the best are the 'greater" and the photographers who make them are greater than those whose work does not.
Weston's photographs touch far more lives than any one small town photographers work does, though it is certainly true that the work of the small town photographer may touch specific lives far more deeply than any Edward Weston photograph ever could.
Which leaves the greater legacy? The answer is both do. The small town photographer leaves a greater legacy to those interested in history and in social things. The artist leaves a greater legacy to those interested in art and in seeing more, thereby, if Alfred Leslie words are true, enhancing the quality of one's life for those who are interested in such things.
Many do not know that in the 1980s I received four separate commissions to photograph four American cities. The documentary aspect of my work--in terms of its historical usefulness--was always present in my thoughts, though at the same time I hoped I was making photographs that were art as well--photographs that did not depend on the specific subject matter. It is a most interesting and very thin line to work on.