“I have been photographing our toilet, that glossy enameled receptacle of extraordinary beauty. Here was every sensuous curve of the ‘human figure divine’ but minus the imperfections. Never did the Greeks reach a more significant consummation to their culture, and it somehow reminded me, in the glory of its chaste convulsions and in its swelling, sweeping, forward movement of finely progressing contours, of the Victory of Samothrace.” — Edward Weston
I bumped into Edward Weston, an American photographer (1886-1958), while re-reading my art history text book, Living with Art by Mark Getlein. Why am I re-reading a textbook? Well, I really love art and I enjoy learning about it. Since my memory of art history is a bit foggy, I’ve decided to revisit the subject and re-learn what I studied. It’s a lot of fun! Not only am I refreshing my memory of art history, I am also deepening my appreciation for the subject.
In a section titled “Art and Beauty,” Weston’s photograph of a cabbage leaf was featured as an example. I paused when I saw it. If I wasn’t told that the photo is of a cabbage leaf, I wouldn’t have guessed it. At first glimpse, I thought the picture to be the skirt of an elaborate gown with the bodice not shown (I think many others thought the same). As you can see [above], the photo is taken against a dark background and is casted in black and white. Taking away the characteristics of the cabbage (its color) and focusing solely on a piece of it makes me consider the cabbage in a new way and focus on parts of it that I’ve never considered: for example, the lines caused by its rumpled leaf. I love lines and the lines in this piece kicked my imagination into overdrive. They flow freely and form curves and sometimes arch against each other. To me, they look like the ruffles in a dress and other times I think of them as veins or the wrinkled skin of a weird sea creature or even an alien.
Another item that Weston photographed is the toilet. Now, why would anyone want to take a photo of something so ordinary? I enjoyed gazing at Weston’s toilet. His photo transforms it. The perspective that Weston shoots from causes the bowl to loom above us, taking on the persona of the “porcelain goddess,” as some refer to it. He makes the toilet look majestic. Also, I couldn’t help thinking of it as a sculpture.
Weston is a gifted photographer who’s quite adept at making the ordinary extraordinary, and at giving objects a new personality. I find that his use of black and white photos emphasize things that are blind to us in color. With the absence of color, we focus more on content and contrast. I now have a new appreciation for black and white photos. I suggest that you check out some of Weston’s photos too. You will be blown away.
Also, check out Martha Schwendener’s article in The New York Times to read more about Edward Weston and his art. And visit this slide show, also on The New York Time’s website, to see more of Weston’s work.
- Analysis of Edward Weston (holtschoolphotography.wordpress.com)
- Walking in the shadows of Edward Weston (framework.latimes.com)
- Edward Weston: One Hundred Twenty-Five Photographs (theonlinephotographer.typepad.com)