No Jay, I was not saying that small town photographers are/were not artists. Some are and some aren't, but for one reason or another--and the reason may be nothing more than that their work was/is never seen by a broad public--their work remains essentially unknown.
And in case I gave the wrong impression: Weston's legacy is deep as well as broad. The small town photographer's legacy is usually only deep insofar as those seeing his photographs have a direct connection to the specific subject matter. Weston was perhaps the preeminent modernist. With his work, the subject matter is less important than the photograph itself.
That points up two essentially different ways of looking at photographs. One is to look at them as works of art which directly show a speciific subject, but which specific subject matter is essentially unimportant. Photographs that are looked at that way are basically all works of photographic art. Examples: it doesn't realy matter who is pictured in Sander's photographs--it could have been someone else. In Weston's work, it really doesn't matter that certain photographs were made at Point Lobos. Similar ones made elsewhere are equivalent. With small town photographers and the hold their photographs have on us it is usually (perhaps not always) the fact that is our grandparents pictured or the small town we live in seen 100 years ago, and our interest in and associations with those particular things that makes those photographs important and meaningful to us. Those photographs would, generally speaking, not be meaningful to those who have no interest in that subject matter. Weston's work touches so many of us not because of what he saw but because of how he saw.