Quintessence of the Thing Itself

Edward Weston Shells 1927

“I worked all Sunday with shells,—literally all day. Only three negatives made and two of them were done as records of movements, to repeat again when I can find suitable backgrounds. I wore myself out trying every conceivable texture and tone for grounds: glass, tin, cardboard, —wool, velvet, even my rubber rain coat! I did not need to make these records for memory’s sake,—no, they are safely recorded there. I did wish to study the tin which was perfect with the lens open: but stopped down I could not see sufficiently to tell, but was positive the surface would come into focus and show a network of scratches: it did. My first photograph of the Chambered Nautilus done at Henry’s [Henrietta Shore, painter] was perfect all but the too black ground: yesterday the only available texture was white. Again I recorded to study at leisure the contrast. The feeling of course has been quite changed, — the luminosity of the shell seen against the black, gone: but the new negative has a delicate beauty of its own. I had heart failure several times yesterday when the shells, balanced together, slipped. I must buy a Nautilus for to break Henry’s would be tragic.” [Edward Weston Daybooks]

Edward Weston Knees 1927

“For what end is the camera best used? . . . The answer comes always more clearly after seeing a great work of the sculptor or painter . . . that the camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether polished steel or palpitating flesh.
I see in my recent negatives . . . pleasant and beautiful abstractions, intellectual juggleries which presented no profound problem. But in the several new heads of Lupe, Galvan, and Tina I have caught fractions of seconds of emotional intensity which a worker in no other medium could have done as well … I shall let no chance pass to record interesting abstractions but I feel definite in my belief that the approach to photography —and its most difficult approach — is through realism.” [Edward Weston Daybooks March 10, 1924]

Edward Weston Pepper No. 30 1930

The glorious new pepper Sonya brought has kept me keyed up all week and caused me to expose eight negatives — I’m not satisfied yet! These eight were all from the same viewpoint; rare for me to go through this. I started out with an under exposure—by the time I had developed the light had failed, and though I tripled my time again I undertimed! Again I tried, desperately determined to get it because I could ill afford the time. Giving an exposure of 50 minutes at 5:00 o’clock I timed correctly but during exposure the fire siren shrieked and promptly the fire truck roared by followed by every car in town: the old porch wobbled, my wobbly old camera wobbled, the pepper shimmied, and I developed a moved negative….
But the pepper is well worth all the time, money, effort. If peppers would not wither, I certainly would not have attempted this one when so preoccupied. I must get this one today; it is beginning to show signs of strain and tonight should grace a salad. It has been suggested that I am a cannibal to eat my models after a master piece. But I rather like the idea that they become a part of me, enrich my blood as well as my vision. Last night we finished my now famous squash, and had several of my bananas in a salad. [Edward Weston Daybooks August 1, 1930]

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