One of the 20th century’s greatest photographers, Edward Weston (1886-1958), became famous primarily for his black and white photographs of landscapes, still lifes, nudes, and cats. Born in Highland Park, Illinois, he moved to California at 21 to join his sister and to escape a step-mother and step-brother with whom he did not get along. Weston admitted that he knew early on that he wanted to be a photographer, perhaps from the age of 16, when his father gave him his first camera.
Following his dream, he married Flora May Chandler who was quite wealthy and opened The Little Studio (1911-1922) in Tropico, California, and concentrated on portraiture. After becoming acquainted with one of the most famous photographers of the time, Alfred Stieglitz, Weston wrote that Stieglitz had told him, “Your work and attitude reassures me. You have shown me at least several prints which have given me a great deal of joy. And I can seldom say that of photographs.”
In 1923 he moved to Mexico City with Tina Modotti,one of the first of his many apprentices and lovers. There he opened another studio and continued to expand his work until 1927 when he returned to California and opened a studio in San Francisco with his son, Brett in 1928. Weston was a founding member of the f/64 group of photographers which included Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke to name a few. Ansel Adams wrote, “Weston is, in the real sense, one of the few creative artists. He has recreated the matter-forms and forces of nature; he has made these forms eloquent of the fundamental unity of the world. His work illuminates man’s inner journey toward perfection of the spirit.”
Weston having been the first photographer to ever receive a grant by the Guggenheim applied for and received a second year of Guggenheim support in 1937. During this time, he and Charis Wilson, another of his models and lovers, had a small home built in the Carmel Highlands on Wilson’s father’s land, and they named it Wildcat Hill because of the many domestic cats that occupied the area. Due to the war, Point Lobos, where Weston took most of his photographs, was closed to the public. So Weston turned his attention to Wildcat Hill and took many shots of the cats that lived there. Weston being a cat lover himself photographed the cats with the same serious intent that he applied to all of his other subjects. The result was his book, The Cats of Wildcat Hill, which was published in 1947.
After first being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1945, a major retrospective of Weston’s work opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1946.
By 1948, Weston was no longer able to take photographs on his own and relied upon an assistant to help him. With only $300 in his bank account, Weston died in 1958. Ironically, today his works sell for as much as $1.6 million.
Weston wrote, “My work-purpose, my theme, can most nearly be stated as the recognition, recording and presentation of the interdependence, the relativity, of all things ‒ the universality of basic form.”