The highlight of the week had to be the opening of "Edward Weston: Life Work (100 Vintage Photographs from the collection of Michael Mattis/Judith Hochberg)" at the Los Angeles Central Public Library in the Getty Gallery on Friday night of Photo LA week. The show will continue there to March 17 and then move on to ten other venues (with a few other venues still to be filled) over the next five years. The next venue will be at the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, TN (June 28-Aug. 18). For other venues, check the I Photo Central Calendar of Photo Events. Curatorial Assistance is handling the show.
In attendance in LA were an ailing but still active Dody Weston Thompson (protégée of Edward and wife of Brett), Kim Weston (son of Cole) and many others of the Weston clan, along with a Who's Who of photography collectors and dealers, most of whom were at Photo LA.
The images were well displayed and the lighting, although low due to the amount of venues it will eventually travel to, seemed intimate and lit each image with a warm glow.
I interviewed Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg after the event. The first big bombshell that he revealed was that there were actually only 99 images in the show, although the 100th print (a beautiful nude) had been acquired, will be in the planned book and may be at future venues.
Mattis, who is one of the world's top particle physicists, had what had to be a unique reason as to why he and his wife collected Edward Weston images: "Weston's Peppers, Shells and other still lifes are like the photographic equivalents of elementary particles in physics, so this is the area (Weston's still lifes) that we started to collect."
As a consequence, Mattis says that his two favorite images of the show are still lifes. He says that his favorite "famous" still life is Chambered Nautilus--Halved, 1927. His favorite among the lesser-known still lifes is an image entitled Three Radishes, also 1927 and printed on matte silver paper. These three radishes are joined at the tip and in a vertical format that to Mattis makes them "look like the famous Rudolf Koppitz Movement study."
When asked about his wife's favorite image, Mattis volunteered that he thought it was Dunes Oceano, 1936, which they had playfully nicknamed Whipped Cream Dunes, because of its various shades of white. Judy agreed, but also said that she liked Pepper 31. She said that she preferred it to the more famous Pepper 30.
Why? I asked her. "Pepper 31 is less well known, more exciting and masculine," Judy told me. "I like less well-known images and I am prouder of owning them. It takes more connoisseurship to appreciate a less well-known image. If you have enough money, diligence and time, you will find enough well-known images, but to find unknown images and to know why they should be famous, gives more distinction to a collection, and that is the more exciting part."
Hochberg also gave me a few other reasons for why the couple collected Weston in depth. One reason was "the added thrill that the best of Weston images are so rare. It is a real challenge to put together a great Weston collection." Another was "feeling a personal connection with the artist. You are aesthetically intimate with them. You have to like those eyes. And even his passion is very exciting--the person behind the eyes."
When I asked Michael about what distinguished this collection of Westons from other collections of the artist, he responded that it was two things: "One, the close family connection and provenance in the majority of the pictures; and, two, the balance of images across all the different phases of his career."
The family provenance was most in evidence with the purchase of the Dody Weston Thompson collection, which provided half of the prints in the exhibition. An additional 11 prints came from either Weston's granddaughter Erica's personal family album, which had numerous early images by Brett and Edward Weston (including two early self portraits and some of the platinum prints in the exhibition) or Cole Weston's private collection of his father's vintage prints. Other prints had connections to Weston acquaintances and relatives, including Anita Brenner, a friend and sponsor of Weston's Mexican work, and Weston's sister May Weston-Seaman, who raised Edward when his mother died at age five.
Oddly enough, what all these purchases from family sources lacked were Weston's still lifes, which were exactly what Mattis and Hochberg had been collecting up until that point. It wound up making everything "a perfect fit," Mattis said.
All of these different sources also allowed the collection to reflect "the entire arc of Weston's life," according to Mattis. "It is very evenly balanced from the earliest prints including what is probably his first nude, the 1909 image of his first wife Flora, who was four month's pregnant with Chandler (a beautiful 12" circular platinum print), to his final photograph, the 1948 image of The Dody Rocks, or Something out of Nothing. "When you look at the (latter) print," Mattis told me, "you actually start to see order coming out of chaos."
You might wonder how this couple works out the dynamics of collecting between them. Judy filled me in. "I don't have to be there when he goes out on a hunt," she said with a sense of humor, much like her spouse's. "But I like to be there for the kill. I have a voice. And if I really want something, I may burst into tears when I see it." That usually works, according to Michael.
When I asked Mattis why he thought Edward Weston was such an important photographer, he compared him to Picasso.
Why Picasso? I asked. "Because his work," Mattis responded, "like Picasso's, is best understood as existing in periods. He was always adventurous--wanting to try something new. There is real genius here with a mixture of passion and precision that he brought to every new direction to his work." Mattis explained that the show itself is hung to reflect and highlight these periods; specifically, it is divided into seven distinct sections: Early Work, Mexico, Still Lifes, Nudes, Early Landscapes, Portraits and Late Landscapes.
The other way that Mattis says Weston resembled Picasso was the length of his productive period: "Weston had a four-decade career and he made masterpieces even in his last years. Most photographers only have ten good years when they are at the top of the mountain."
Mattis also feels that Weston's strength as a print-maker was as strong as his ability to take images. "The combination of both is at the highest level," Mattis told me. "Other photographers only have one of these strengths; with Weston they complement each other."
Judy had another way of phrasing it: "Weston's pictures have the added bonus of being such beautiful objects."
Two prints from the show intrigued me and clearly exhibited both strengths, as well as being "beautiful objects." The first was a platinum print called A Sunny Corner in the Attic (Johan Hagemeyer), 1921. When I mentioned it to Michael, he noted it as one of Weston's "first modernist studies with a geometric decomposition of the picture frame." Me? I just liked the print and the image.
The other image was of a nondescript dry gully. It is titled Guadalajara, Barranca de los Oblatos: Rocky Trail, 1925. This exquisitely made exhibition palladium print glowed off of the wall and was called "an artistic example of minimalism" by Mattis when we discussed it. It is an image that most passed by, I am sure, but Weston found beauty in this piece of eroded earth, and much of it is in his magical printing.
You might think that the prospect of such a spotlight show would enthrall the rarely shy Mattis, but apparently it was initially a very upsetting prospect. "I loved living with the images, even if only a few were up on the wall. After they had been packed up and shipped, I felt very morose," Mattis told me. "But seeing them all up at once was tremendously gratifying, and to have the opening in the presence of so many of our friends and fellow photography enthusiasts was doubly gratifying."
Judy added that her two favorite things about the opening reception was "having Dody and Kim there, and then having people come up to me and tell me about their favorite picture. It was always a different one."
Now Mattis and Hochberg look forward to traveling with the exhibit to see its many incarnations at its different venues. By the way, Michael told me that he does not feel that the couple is done with their Weston collection. "After all," he pointed out, "we just bought that spectacular nude to make it 100."