‘Edward Weston: Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio‘ is a beautifully printed reproduction from Michael Smith and Paula Chumlee‘s Lodima Press. A copy of the original, owned by Ansel and Virginia Adams, is in the Weston Archive at the Center for Creative Photography, and Bonham’s auctioned off an original in 2013 for $80,500, so a reproduction, especially one as handsome as this, is a great thing to have available, 65+ years after the original came out.
Edward Weston produced his 50th Anniversary portfolio in 1951/2 to mark his 50 years in photography. Parkinson’s forced Weston to give up photography in 1948, and this portfolio, produced in an edition of 100, was printed, with his supervision, by his son Brett. It contains 12 images:
- Cabbage Leaf, 1931
- Eel River, 1937
- David H. McAlpin, New York, 1941
- Eroded Rock, Point Lobos, 1930
- Nude, 1936
- Wall Scrawls, Hornitos, 1940
- Guadalupe, Mexico, 1924
- Church Door, Hornitos, 1940
- North Dome, Point Lobos, 1946
- William Edmondson, sculptor, Nashville, 1941
- “Willie,” New Orleans, 1941
- Dunes, Oceano, 1936
In finding links to all the image, I noticed that the online version have much lower contrast than the prints in the Lodima Press version. In William Edmondson, sculptor, for example, the side wall behind the ladder and the rear wall of the studio are almost completely black in my copy of the reproduction. The Eroded Rock has lost much of its detail, and the pebbles at the bottom and in the back are almost uniform. And every other picture is the same way, with contrast dialed up by 50 or so (if we were playing with sliders in Lightroom or something).
Maybe the originals are dark and contrasty like that in person; maybe the online versions are flat drum scans from the negatives or something. And maybe it matches Smith & Chumlee’s aesthetic,* though I certainly hope that’s not the case. Either way, there’s much less detail to admire in the Lodima reproduction than you’ll find in the online version.
The 12 photographs themselves are quite interesting as a group, both in their seeming randomness, and in the rather banal nature of some. That Weston saw the Wall Scrawls and the Church Door as being among his very best pictures strikes me… Neither have the emotional or aesthetic impact of Pepper #30, or example, and, the scratchiti picture has very little going for it, to my eye, anyway.
Weston spoke to this some in his introduction. “As to the audience who will own or see this Portfolio, some will be below me on the ladder of growth, some on the same rung, others above me looking down. To all I hope these photographs will add some new note to their experience.” Now I’ve photographed my fair share of scratchiti, from petroglyphs in New Mexico to late 00s tags on NYC Subways, and I’d wager a few of my digital pictures match the emotional import and aesthetic content of Wall Scrawls, though the Weston picture has an aura that mine will likely never have.
I’m sure I’m missing something… I am very far below Weston on the ladder of photographic growth, after all.
The Lodima reproduction is gorgeous, no doubt about it, and it’s great to have a more widely available version of the Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio available. While one of the more contemporary Weston biographies, monographs, or surveys might have more of his work, at a similar size and level of quality, it’s great to have this set of 12 images all together, to see what a master photographer at the end of his career thought about his life’s work. The only drawback I see is just how dark all these pictures are, and I really wish, now, that I hadn’t gone looking for the images online…
Overall, I’d give Lodima’s Edward Weston: Fiftieth Anniversary Portfolio 3.6 stars.
*A couple of years ago, I scored a Martha Chumlee 8×10 contact print of some ice on a black rock beach. It almost looks like a wild style tag, very abstract and gorgeous. It’s similarly dark and contrasty, though perhaps not quite so dark as the prints in the reproduction.