E-Photo
Issue #137  12/4/2007
 
Lodima Press Portfolios Reviewed

By Matt Damsker

WESTON PORTFOLIO: SAN FRANCISCO; WHITE SANDS; NEW YORK.

Volumes 1-3 of a 19-volume portfolio of the photographs of Brett Weston. From the collection of Scott F. Nichols. Essays by Roger Aiken, Softcover edition of 1,000; numbered hardcover edition of 250. Lodima Press, P.O. Box 367, Revere, PA 18953 USA. Phone: +1-610-847-2007; fax: +1-610-847-2373; email: info@lodimapress.com; Web: http://www.lodimapress.com .

Brett Weston's 16 limited-edition portfolios of original photographs were produced between 1939 and 1980, and they are understandably hard to come by today. Lodima Press is thus publishing a new 19-volume series of Weston portfolios over the course of the next several years, and these first three editions give a fine accounting not only of Weston's important early work but also of Lodima's commitment to quality in this important project.

The photos have been printed in Belgium by Salto in 600-line screen quadtones on heavily coated stock, many of them reproduced in their actual size, with the colors of each book cover selected to match the covers of the original portfolio cases. And the essays by Roger Aiken--an expert on both Brett and his father, Edward--provide important context. Ultimately, of course, the photographs speak for themselves as sensitive documents of time and place, and these first three portfolios have the effect of moving us across America--from left to right, as it were--beginning with Weston's wonderful views of 1939 San Francisco in its transition from gold-rush town to urban Mecca.

Thus, several of these shots, from a high vantage, depict the squat housing and modest buildings sprawled along the hills and coastlines, with dramatic skies and horizon lines. Weston's image of the Golden Gate Bridge, shot from sea level and projecting in a powerful diagonal from the lower right to upper left of the frame, against a twilit sky, is nothing less than iconic, conveying at once the majesty of the bridge as both secular temple and marvel of modern engineering. In all of the shots, an eye for telling detail combines with a muted, richly shadowed tonality to convey a moody ambivalence about the price of urbanism in such a splendid environment.

Moving eastward, then, Weston's 1949 portfolio (with some 1976 images as well) of the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico are where he connects most closely with the natural abstraction of his father's most emblematic work. But where Edward Weston typically sought to express the purest form of sand dunes, Brett seeks the larger context, with horizon, scrub vegetation and shadow combining to render the complexity of these spare landscapes.

And by the time his camera encounters New York City, in 1951, the result is a 12-photography portfolio that marries Manhattan's visual complexity to Weston's mature style. Indeed, these glorious cityscapes build powerfully upon the San Francisco images of more than a decade earlier, as skyscrapers obliterate the horizon line and Weston takes in the extraordinary angularity, geometric dazzle, and human implications of America's true metropolis. Thus, the romance of the Brooklyn Bridge is viewed not in the solitary splendor that Weston brought to his image of the Golden Gate, but is instead overlapped by the sight of a four-story New York apartment building-cum-saloon, with automobiles parked in an anxious gaggle to the bottom left of the crammed frame. As Aiken points out, the image evokes and equals Edward Hopper's paintings of urban loneliness.

Obviously, New York challenged and delighted Weston in many ways. Focusing on doorways and windows in close up, he captured fine textures and details--trees sprouting from concrete corners, wrought iron railings--while amidst overweening architecture and urban clutter, he located people made small yet indomitably coping, as in the classic shot of a lone man reading a newspaper glimpsed from high above a canyon of brick wall and forbidding rooftops. And Weston's portrait of a weathered old seafaring man seated in a rowboat on some ramshackle edge of the island is a masterpiece. As with so many of these images, one can look at it repeatedly and see more each time.

LODIMA PRESS PORTFOLIO BOOK SERIES.

A Nine-Volume Series Of The Works Of Nicholas Nixon, Carl Chiarenza, George Tice, Keith Carter, Linda Connor, Larry Fink, Arthur Tress, Marilyn Bridges, And Paul Capinigro. Softcover edition of 1,000; numbered hardcover edition of 100. Lodima Press, P.O. Box 367, Revere, PA 18953 USA. Phone: +1-610-847-2007; fax: +1-610-847-2373; email: info@lodimapress.com; Web: http://www.lodimapress.com .

Amidst its revival and first-rate reproduction of Brett Weston's classic photographic portfolios, Lodima Press has also issued a black-and-white portfolio series of works by leading and emerging contemporary photographers (also printed in fine, 600-line screen quadtone by Salto).

These nine portfolios range from the domestic details and quirky viewpoints of Nicholas Nixon to Paul Caponigro's timeless textural portraits of the Stone Churches of Ireland. In between are strong and varied photographic visions--the abstractions of Carl Chiarenza, for example, explore cut paper designs; George Tice offers the downscale urban landscapes of New Jersey; Keith Carter dreamily, erotically and compassionately depicts his nudes in a number of studio and natural settings; Linda Connor echoes Caponigro's stone churches with her mysterious evocations of Turkey's early Christian chapels and monasteries; Larry Fink locates the praying mantis in its camouflaged predation in hills and fields; Arthur Tress's "Planets" are everyday textures and surfaces--water, dirt, rock, floorboard--made cosmically strange through the disc-like circumference of his flipped-over Hasselblad lens shade; and Marilyn Bridges high, bird's-eye views of world landscapes--from Buffalo herds in Botswana to Roman ruins, the Nevada desert, Central Park, or a Viking burial site in Denmark--depict time and earth in tandem.

Each of these portfolios stands well enough on its own, of course, but as part of this ambitious Lodima series, the individual oeuvres reflect strongly on each other, not only in the obvious pairing of Caponigro's and Connor's church studies but also in the sensuality with which, say, Keith Carter fashions his nude studies and Larry Fink eavesdrops on the pure insectine existence of the praying mantis. Similarly, Tress's "Planets" and Chiarenza's Matisse-like collaging of glossy paper, all edges and roundings, rich with contrast and complexity, seem to complement each other while offering very different visual experiences. And George Tice's views of a New Jersey that seems to define itself in the water towers of Sayreville and Wildwood, in liquor stores and motels, is somehow balanced by Nicholas Nixon's quietly vacant views of suburban domesticity, an Eggleston-like glimpse of the fleeting and seemingly random play of objects and light. In all, Lodima has achieved a lot with these sensitively staged little books.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published in the fall of 2005.

He currently reviews books for U.S.A. Today.

(Book publishers, authors and photography galleries/dealers may send review copies to us at: I Photo Central, 258 Inverness Circle, Chalfont, PA 18914. We do not guarantee that we will review all books or catalogues that we receive. Books must be aimed at photography collecting, not how-to books for photographers.)