Monday, October 19, 2020

A Matter of Taste

I happened to make a comment over on ToP about what an objectionable prick Edward Weston was, and it got me to thinking.

It turns out that I don't much like Weston's photos any more. I used to!

Don't get me wrong, I don't think they're objectively bad photos. I don't think they should not exist. I like photos, I still like photos. But Weston's aren't my favorites.

The thing is, they're all so damned chilly. I get what he's after; he claims to have been after the essence of the thing, and sure, there it is. The formal essence of the form of the thing. Not really the thing itself, but its form, sure. The nudes are all bodyscapes, the landscapes and vegetables are all nude bodyscapes too when you get down to it.

The portraits all seem utterly disengaged, and they all kind of look the same. They all look like they're self-consciously, pointedly, ignoring the man with the camera. Like he's yelled at them to stop smiling at him, like he's leaned pretty hard on them to make no connection to the camera and thence the viewer at all.

I mean, this is what he was trying to do after all. He wanted to make these explorations of form and essence, not to be hanging about with people in all their complexity and squishy yuckiness. He was after a real austerity.

To be blunt, this isn't anything I am much interested in any more. I'm increasingly drawn toward humanist photography, and away from, well, everything else. Certainly away from formal exercises in light or whatever.

This isn't to say that you can't like Weston. Of course you can! It's just a matter of taste.


  1. I haven't really thought this through, but here's my rudimentary take: Edward Weston is an anglo west coaster, and his artistic expression is analytical and emotionally cool. [Some] West coast jazz shares this characteristic.

    If that's all wrong, so be it.

    I've never seen a Weston photo I didn't like, but they don't stick to my nervous system like those of his contemporaries, Modotti, Bravo, and Elliot Porter.

    I frequently try to take Elliot Porter shots, and never Edward Weston shots.

    I'm too lazy to hump around a view camera though.

  2. There was a retrospective of Weston at the art museum here a few years ago. (The docent didn't know what f/64 meant.) They had a comparison of Weston's and Ansel Adam's shots of the same subject (some storage tanks or grain elevators?), to demonstrate the coolness of the the former versus the passion of the latter.
    On a personal note: I didn't get a driver's license until I was 44 -- and that's just the tip of my mooching iceberg.

  3. So you're saying that Weston's photos are like neoclassical late Stravinsky: beautiful but emotionless?

    As a matter of interest, what do you think of the work of Bill Brandt (my No. 1 favourite photographer)?

    1. Brandt isn't someone I've spent a lot of time with? I recognize some of the photos, though. He seems a bit like Weston, but more interested in the camera-specific perspectives that can be obtained?

      Weston's photos, it occurs to me, all seem to want to be pen and ink drawings. They're mostly "line" and a bit of "form" and that's about it. They don't do the thing I want photos to do: transport me "there."

      Indeed, Weston's photos don't seem to have a "there" at all in many cases. Brandt seems to have a much greater sense of "thereness," often.

      Weston, honestly, seems to have been willfully removing any sense of place at all.

  4. Heh, this is where it all comes out... One can theorise about "gaze" and stuff, which is fun, but the true reveal is when the "my favourite photographers" cards are turned over. It's a much better game than "my favourite lens", too.

    Personally, when it comes to those Great Americans, I have always disliked Weston, Adams, and Co., though I used to enjoy Wynn Bullock and Minor White more than I do now. Give me Emmet Gowin or Harry Callahan any day.

    But then I'm a Euro-Brit, and it was seeing a Josef Koudelka exhibition, and books by Fay Godwin (Land), Raymond Moore (Murmurs at Every Turn) and Chris Killip (Isle of Man) that turned me on to photography.

    There is no substitute for good taste i.e. liking the same photographers as me.


    1. OK godammit, I'm going to throw down my trump card (no, the other trump): Eugene Atget, the progenitor of all 'street' photography as we know it.

    2. Hmm, nice card, sir, but if we're playing a high-stakes game of "street" -- not my game of choice -- I guess I'll raise you with three of a kind: Chris Steele-Perkins, Tony Ray-Jones, and Marketa Luskacova. Now there's good taste. Read 'em and weep!