Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Edward Weston Life Work

Exhibition at the City Art Centre - Edinburgh

Earlier this month I went to the Edinburgh City Art Centre to see the Edward Weston Photography exhibition. This is the first time I've gone to see an exhibition whilst studying in a related area so had to put my "student head" on and try to look at the work a bit more critically. Normally when I go to see something like this it's purely for enjoyment or out of interest.

Edinburgh Art Centre is the only UK showing of this exhibition and is the largest display of the photographers work ever  to be seen in Britain. There are 117 vintage prints from all phases of his career. Some of the prints are his signature prints e.g. Pepper No.30 which features heavily in all the advertising material and other prints are of his previously unpublished images.

Pepper No.30  1930
Edward Weston was born in 1886 and started photography when he was sixteen. His career in photography lasted over 5 decades and its tragic that he had to give it up after developing Parkinson's disease. He is well known for the detailed "day books" that he kept of his daily activities, thoughts and ideas. It is interesting to see some excerpts from these journals alongside his prints and get some insight into his own thoughts on the prints.  E.g. He comments on taking 10 negatives of 5 unusually shaped bananas which had "endless possibilities" and goes on to say how one of the negatives taken had been "under timed" when exposed and had to be retaken. He then went on to say how he felt he had worked well that day, gone for a walk and stopped at the post office. So these journals were very much like an everyday diary to him.

The images in the exhibition are split into categories to illustrate how his photographic style developed over the years. They commence with his early works which include portraits of his wife and sons. Many of these images have a blurry, foggy look about them, softly lit and focused and took me by surprise. At the time they were taken, around 1911, I'm sure there was a great deal of craftsmanship involved but to me they were a bit ordinary. They lack the wow factor of his later images. Further categories of his work displayed include images of Mexico, Nudes, Early and some superb Late Landscapes but it was the Still Life category that I mused over for longest. (Like most people I suspect).

Flora Chandler 1910

Dunes, Oceano 1936

Most of these images were taken from the 1920's onwards and show how he was a master of studying form. The images are all beautifully composed and printed. Many of the items photographed are everyday items found in many homes at the time e.g. hard boiled eggs and an egg slicer or of organic structures such as vegetables and shells. Weston took all the images with a large format camera with only the available light and each image is the original size and print. Every photograph is sharp throughout, there is no blurring around the edges or shallow depth of field shots. You might think this would make them like "record" shots but you can see every tone and texture of the object. The images of peppers almost looked muscular like a human form and could have easily been an image of a sculpture. 

Nautilus Shell 1927

There is a certain style about each image that is consistent. Predominately the still life images were framed centrally with a black or dark background. The images are framed quite tightly with little space around the object so you are totally drawn to the subject. Every minute detail of the object is visible and in focus, each image is the study of the form of the subject.

Nude 1936

It's not surprising that Weston is regarded as a master of 20th century photography and a pioneer in creative photography. The exhibition runs until 24th October and if I get a chance I'll be going back to take another look. You can view his work on and find at more about the exhibition from

Images reproduced courtesy of Bridgeman Education.

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