"It was as though the things of everyday experience had been transformed... into organic sculptures, the forms of which were both the expression and the justification of the life within... He had freed his eyes of conventional expectation, and had taught them to see the statement of intent that resides in natural form." (© John Szarkowski)
For more than fifteen years, US photographer Edward WESTON kept a diary in which he recorded his struggle to understand himself, his society and his art. His journal has become a classic of photographic literature. He was a towering figure in twentieth-century photography, whose restless quest for beauty and the mystical presence behind it resulted in a body of work unrivaled in the medium.
Book review (for volume I, Mexico)
"After three days with the first volume of the 'Daybooks of Edward Weston', the diary style has taken over my ordinary writing habits. I am tempted to date this - why not?
Rochester, New York 26 March 62: Today a long-held wish has been gratified. I hold a certain book in my hands; I was beginning to think that I never would. At least Volume 1 is printed and that covers the years that Edward WESTON spent in Mexico. It is as if the man were back again. The nostalgia sweeps in like the afternoon fogs of San Francisco and any critical sense that I might have had takes a vacation. I find that I do not want to write a book review. Maybe it’s the nostalgia. For a deeper reason I give preference to a reluctance to contribute to any reader’s feeling that he knows a book because he can talk glibly at a cocktail party about something that he has never read.
The nostalgia is personal, what I bring to the reading of the book. (his writing in a diary has its share of memories mixed with positive and generative statements.) For one thing I relive the days and evenings in his house perched over the Pacific Ocean. Especially the time when he let me read what he had written in his 'Daybooks'. As fast as I would finish one notebook he would find the next: Mexico, California, Mexico again (where the first volume stops), the long Carmel and Lobos years, the Guggenheim fellowship. The light poured in the window, the skylight, and I over the mutilated typescript. Edward WESTON had edited with a razor blade. Seeing in the words the man unfold during his fruitful years long before I met him was a strangely moving experience. Much came together, his whole influence on me when I was learning to photograph and live. Another kind of affirmation, this time written - to add to the support he had given me by gesture and glance as I tried to work at Point Lobos.
But a bit about this unfolding of his that moved me so. Schooling past, he went to Mexico - not the three R’s but camera. He did not learn photography in classrooms, but mainly in professional photography the same as thousands of others. Self taught really. By 1920 he had earned his spurs. In Mexico he tried them out. At first recognized as an artist by the powerful artists and cultured class of Mexico City - in fact this was his first recognition as an artist - he luxuriated in recognition like any young lion - still we can see laid in those few years the beginnings of the man as an artist of a different order. These glimmerings of an independent artist, or artist in another and deeper sense were written down with all the rest. Bullfights, passing love affairs, the city, public pubs with romantic names, market places, food, drink and the constant making of portraits to earn his living is all a part of making pictures. The way he lived photography, any separation between man and artist, on whatever level, seems slight. Looking back at least through the pages of a book - some drive, some compulsion, inner stamina, why not call it soul, began to make itself felt and Edward WESTON heeded the promptings. A dozen years later I can trace a little of why I was so strongly affected by his 'Mexican Daybooks'. Because another had surmounted the turmoil of his own beginnings, I felt affirmation for my own shaky foundations.
Reading the notebooks in his house, in the sunlight, in his presence - that was similar to watching a slow motion movie of some life process that would lend itself to such drastic treatment. Yet he had borrowed himself for his own relentless observations and wrote facts and conclusions down in the hour before dawn.
27 March, 5 a.m.: To reconsider this man who influenced me as far as I was able to be affected, or permitted myself to be - that is to either go under in a soft foam of memorable euphoria, or march unerringly through a relentless desert. As I continue reading, the vivid images of his presence flicker across the pages. Either and or - somewhere he learned that yes and no are as the two feet of a man. In my memory his presence stands clearly balanced between sensuous love of living and disciplined self scrutiny. Not one or the other; the harmony instead, or resonance, that says 'no' only to those things that stand in the way of inner development. He is still a moving force.
Steaming coffee - dawn through a horizon slit in the clouds - it will be a cloudy day in Rochester. Will we have to wait another ten years before Eastman House or some other publisher produces the second volume for us? At Lobos and on his trips across the country, the inner growth first appearing in Mexico takes form in words and photographs. His growth inwardly never stopped even though the 'Daybooks', after fifteen years, were discontinued when a way of working was forged. And further growth left words behind. In later years he said little, 'How young I was. That covers everything.” He showed us photographs that covered the wordless'."
(© Minor White)