20 November 2019: Auspicious Beginnings: Weston’s Earliest Photography Magazine Critiques, 1906–1910

“We hope to see more of Mr. Weston’s work.”
—“Picture Criticism: E.H. Weston,” Camera and Dark-Room April 1906 [1]

Edward Weston, Self-Portrait, 1908 (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

Edward Weston is so deeply established in the pantheon of Great Photographers—and his photographs are so broadly disseminated and familiar—that it is difficult to imagine him as the new kid on the photographic block. Yet, that is precisely what he was when, in 1906, one of his photographs appeared in print for the first time.

Edward Weston, Spring, 1903 as illustrated in Camera and Dark-Room, April 1906 © Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

This propitious introduction came in the form of Spring (Conger 2/1903), a sylvan 1903 image in which a winding path meanders through a wooded glade in Chicago’s Washington Park. Weston’s fine eye for composition is already apparent in this early landscape which debuted, appropriately enough for its vernal theme (and the equivalent “spring” of Weston’s career), in the April 1906 issue of Camera and Dark-Room.[2] The magazine praised it in their “Picture Criticism” column as follows: “E.H. Weston— ‘Spring,’ although it bears all the earmarks of having been made later in the year, is a more than ordinarily successful rendering of a wooded landscape. The composition is highly satisfactory and the treatment shows that the maker is possessed of considerable artistic taste as well as technical ability. The print, which is on a rough developing paper, is very pleasing to the eye, but the quality of the negative seems better suited to platinum. Objection may be made to the strong halation in the topmost branches, but in this case it is well made use of to give the necessary effect of distance and atmosphere. We hope to see more of Mr. Weston’s work.”

Despite the hopeful closing note, this proved the only reference to, or photograph by, Weston to appear in the pages of Camera and Dark-Room, which ceased publication in 1906 to merge with American Amateur Photographer.

Two months later another Weston landscape, Rushes in Winter (Not in Conger), received a scathing appraisal in the “Our Portfolio” column of the June 1906 issue of American Amateur Photographer.[3] Unfortunately for posterity, the photograph itself is not illustrated, but the reviewer unabashedly lambastes it as follows: “2135. Ed. H. Weston—‘Rushes in Winter.’ We cannot say anything in favor of this. A perfectly white sky and an equally white mass of what may be snow below, with masses of gray lines on either side, forms a poor subject, poorly photographed, the fault being much under-exposure and overdevelopment.”

Weston created Spring and Rushes in Winter while he was still in his late teens living in Chicago. Their inclusion in national photographic magazines early in 1906 evinces Weston’s youthful dedication to his art, his active engagement in promoting his work, and his keen awareness of major photography periodicals prior to his departure for California.[4] One cannot help but wonder which and how many photographs he sent out into the world at this time in the hope of garnering attention for his work.

Edward Weston, Tropico, California [aka Bird’s Eye View of Tropico], 1907 as illustrated in American Photography, March 1908
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

The next Weston photograph to appear in print was Tropico, California (Not in Conger), illustrated in the “Our Portfolio” column of the March 1908 issue of American Photography.[5] Once again, Weston’s effort received a less than flattering reception: “E.H. Weston.— ‘Tropico, California,’ might have been an interesting topographical view but for the dominating white paper sky, and the hardly less white ridge by which the mountain is represented. The arrangement or composition is very good, especially in the way in which the whole is watched over and protected by the tropical looking tree on the left; but for a subject of this kind the lens has not been nearly sufficiently focused,—the whole should have been much sharper.”

How ironic to read of Weston, a progenitor of “straight,” sharply focused photography, being criticized for a deficiency of focus back in Pictorialist oriented 1908.

Edward Weston, “Real Photographic Postcard” depicting Tropico, California, 1907 (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

This Tropico landscape actually dates to 1907, when Weston “published” the view himself as a real photographic post card. An example in the collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc. was sent by Edward’s sister, May Weston Seaman, to a Mrs. C.F. Randal in Keene, New Hampshire. Weston inscribed the photograph in the negative at lower left: “Tropico, Cal. / Weston-Photo;” it is postmarked “TROPICO, / DEC / 26 / P.M. / 1907;” and hand addressed, in ink to: “Mrs. C.F. Randal / 77 Water St. / Keene / N.H.” The brief message from May reads: “Dec. 25 – 07. / I send with this view of our Valley, a box of pepper boughs. Hope it will be as pretty when it reaches you. We are pretty well and happy, and building a tiny home nest. A happy new year to you from May.”[6]

Edward Weston, Snow Drifts, pre-1906? as illustrated in Camera Craft, June 1908 (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

Following his debuts in Camera and Darkroom, American Amateur Photographer, and American Photography, Camera Craft finally took notice of Weston by awarding Second Prize in its April 1908 Competition to his wintry landscape Snow Drifts (Not in Conger). The award was announced and the photograph illustrated one month later in their June issue without, alas, any commentary.[7]

Given the similarity between this and other snow scenes Weston photographed in Chicago, it is reasonable to attribute a 1906 or earlier date to this work as well. In fact, one wonders whether Snow Drifts might be the same Rushes in Winter, critiqued so brutally in the above noted June 1906 issue of American Amateur Photographer.

Edward Weston, Priscilla, 1908 as illustrated in American Photography, August 1908 (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona
Edward Weston, Helen, 1908 as illustrated in American Photography, February 1909
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

Despite its initial displeasure with Tropico in March 1908, American Photography began assessing Weston’s work with increasing favor as 1908 wore on and subsequent years ensued. In August 1908 they awarded Weston an Honorable Mention in their “Monthly Competition” for Priscilla (Not in Conger), a nostalgic depiction of a young woman in Colonial costume working hearthside at a spinning wheel.[8]

In February 1909 Weston received a second Honorable Mention, this time for Helen (Not in Conger), a contemplative portrait of a young woman seated in profile at a window bench, her face bathed in light filtering through the curtains.[9] “Helen” is Helen (aka Nell aka Eleanor) Cole, a family friend and the photogenic subject of a number of his early portraits. In May 1910, The Camera illustrated another portrait of Helen Cole, which, given the identical clothes, similar reflective attitude and use of lighting was likely taken at the same sitting as the Camera Craft portrait (see discussion, below).

Weston rose a bit in the ranks of American Photography’s Competitions with a Third Prize for another portrait, In Reverie (Not in Conger). Announced in May 1909 and subsequently illustrated (but not critiqued) in June,[10] In Reverie portrays a couple in Colonial garb seated in profile on a high backed settle, incongruously placed in an open doorway (rather than the more customary fireside). Of course this open doorway also serves the practical purpose of providing a ready source for the illumination that suffuses the couple with an atmospheric glow. Although In Reverie depicts what appears to be a man and a woman, in reality, both are women: Flora Chandler Weston’s nieces, Emily and Lillian Ellias, the daughters of Edward B. and Elizabeth Chandler Ellias.[11]

Edward Weston, In Reverie, 1909 as illustrated in American Photography, June 1909
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

Precisely what appealed to the American Photography judges about these three portraits remains unknown, as none were critiqued in their respective magazines. However, we shouldn’t be surprised by Weston’s interest in Colonial inspired tableaux such as Priscilla and In Reverie. In actuality, they are apt reflections of the enthusiasm for Colonial Revivalism sweeping through architecture, interior design, decorative arts, fine arts, and gardens during the period. Inspired by the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, Colonial Revivalism found considerable and widespread expression from the late 19th through the first quarter of the 20th century. As always, Weston was very much attuned to his times.

We now arrive at 1910, the final year of our review, which disappointingly ushered in nothing more prestigious than Honorable Mentions from the various periodicals evaluating his work.

American Photography awarded Honorable Mentions to A Summer Idyll (Not in Conger) in April 1910,[12] a portrait titled Eloise (Not in Conger) in July,[13] and Soldier Boy (Not in Conger) in November.[14] Regrettably, all three photographs remain unidentified as none are discussed, described or illustrated in their respective magazines.

Edward Weston, [Helen Cole], 1908 as illustrated in The Camera, May 1910 (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

As noted above, in May 1910 The Camera found enough favor with another Weston portrait of Helen Cole (certainly related to the one illustrated in the February 1909 issue of American Photography) to allot it an Honorable Mention in its “Home Portraiture Competition,” illustrate it in its May issue, and publish the following very mixed critique: “No 3 is awarded to E.H. Weston, Tropico, Cal. The scheme of lighting is novel and pretty well managed, but a little hard and contrasty. The posing is good, but the high light on the belt buckle in conjunction with the high lights on the hands and wrists is decidedly unpleasant. Much improvement is also needed in the management of the background.” With such faint praise, one wonders why The Camera even deemed this award worthy. No title is supplied for Weston’s portrait, the reproduction of which is accompanied by the following caption: “Honorable Mention / The Camera Competition / No. 132—Home Portraiture / Edward H. Weston / Tropico, Cal. / Film-pack Negative. R.R. Lens, full open. Exposure, 8 seconds; sunny day; north window. Enlarged Print on Royal Bromide.”[15]

Edward Weston, In Vacation Time, 1910 as illustrated in Photo-Era, October 1910 (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

The last contemporary periodical to take an interest in Weston’s work was Photo-Era which, in October 1910, awarded an Honorable Mention in the “Landscape with Figures” category of its “Monthly Competition” to In Vacation Time (Not in Conger).[16] This Kodak contest worthy image depicts two young photographers ambling along a path in Griffith Park in search of picturesque subject matter. In it we see Weston burdened with his cumbersome equipment and Helen Cole at ease with what is likely her much more portable Kodak.[17] The photograph is illustrated on page 193 and discussed favorably on page 206 by editor Wilfred A. French, as follows: “Mr. Weston’s picture, page 193, is very pleasing. The figures are well managed, and their relation to the landscape logical but not subservient. The burden on the young man’s shoulder is strongly accentuated, and becomes obtrusive. Data: Orthonon plate; Voigtlander & Son’s Collinear lens, at full aperture; exposure 3 seconds; September, 4 P.M.; bright light; pyro developer; print, Azo “A,” sulphide toned.”

The following month, a second Weston photograph, described only as a “marine,” received an Honorable Mention in the magazine’s November “Round Robin Guild Monthly Competitions.”[18] No description or illustration was supplied, which is particularly frustrating as this “marine” is the only non-portrait referred to in any of the photography magazines since Snow Drifts appeared in the June 1908 issue of Camera Craft.

Edward Weston, Mary Pearl Pottol, 1910 as illustrated in the Los Angeles Daily Times, 3 September 1910
© Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona

The attention Weston received from photography magazines during this early period was due largely to his own initiative. Weston submitted work to these periodicals, but was certainly not well enough established to have the magazines solicit work from him. What makes photographs such as Spring, Snow Drifts, Priscilla, In Reverie, and Helen particularly interesting today is the fact that Weston created, selected and disseminated them as representative of his work—at least representative of what he thought would be deemed “artistic”at the time. These were the photographs for which he sought critical approbation. They were not the “bread and butter” portraits, topographical and documentary work he executed strictly for commercial purposes. Those photographs appeared in print as well, sometimes with and sometimes without credit, but in such mediums as newspapers, city directories, and promotional civic publications (topics for future Blog posts!). One example is this portrait of Mary Pearl Pottol, a finalist in a Los Angeles Times Scholarship Contest. Credited as “Photo by Weston, Tropico,” it appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Times on 3 September 1910.[19] Yet even this seemingly prosaic portrait holds our interest, for in it we can see, however coincidentally, the shadow of Weston’s great “heroic” heads to come.

NOTES

1 “Picture Criticism: E.H. Weston,” Camera and Dark-Room 9:4, April 1906, 132–133. [Illustration p. 133].

2 Ibid.
The illustration of Spring is accompanied by the following caption: “Spring E.H. Weston.”

3 “Our Portfolio,” American Amateur Photographer 18:6, June 1906, 290.
To date, no definitive identification of Rushes in Winter has been made or print of it located. It may be the photograph Snow Scene, Jackson Park, Chicago (Conger 1/1903) or, perhaps more likely, Snow Drifts, which depicts a landscape of rushes or bare shrub branches emerging from a snow covered foreground. See discussion of the June 1908 Camera Craft in the Blog above and in Note 7, below.

4 Weston arrived in California in late May 1906.

5 [Frank R. Fraprie], “Our Portfolio,” American Photography 2:3, March 1908, 166.

6 Edward Weston, [Real Photographic Post Card], Tropico, Cal. Tropico, California, dated 25 December and postmarked 26 December 1907. (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
Another print—but not a postcard—of this photograph is in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum where it is mounted in “Album C,” and accessioned as 86.XA.714.67. In addition to the American Photography critique and the photo postcard, this same expansive view of Tropico has been found in two later publications which are outside the time frame of this post: the 1911–1912 Resident and Business Directory of Glendale, Tropico and Casa Verdugo (which boasts six Weston photographs and two different advertisements for his studio) and the November 1916 issue of American Globe Protective Financier (which illustrates a whopping twelve Weston photographs of Tropico).

7 [Edward Weston], Snow Drifts, Camera Craft 15:6, June 1908, 219. [Illustration only]. (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
The caption that accompanies the illustration reads: “SNOW DRIFTS By EDWARD H. WESTON, TROPICO, CAL. / Second Prize, April Competition.”

8 “Editorial Note and Comment: Our Competition,” American Photography 2:8, August 1908, 461–462. [Illus. p. 461.] (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
Weston’s is the twentieth and final alphabetically listed name among the “Honorable mention” awards for the August Competition. The caption that accompanies the illustration of Priscilla (Not in Conger) reads: “Priscilla / Edward H. Weston / Honorable Mention—Monthly Competition.”
The sitter has been variously identified as Flora Weston or May Weston Seaman. Amy Conger, in her Dissertation, identifies her as Weston’s sister, May while two prints of this photograph in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston are catalogued on the museum’s web site as “Aunt Flora Weston (at spinning wheel).”

9 “Our Competitions,” American Photography 3:2, February 1909, 91, 103. [Illus. p. 91].
The caption that accompanies the full page illustration of Helen (Not in Conger) on page 91 reads: “Helen / Edward H. Weston / Honorable Mention, Monthly Competition.”

10 Frank R. Fraprie, “Editorial Comment” American Photography 3:5, May 1909, 292, 294. [Ref. p. 292].
and
[Edward Weston], “In Reverie,” American Photography 3:6 June 1909, 351.
Although the “Monthly Competition” results were announced in May, In Reverie (Not in Conger) was not illustrated until June. The illustration is accompanied by the following caption: “In Reverie / Edward H. Weston / Third Prize, Monthly Competition (General).”

11 Beth Gates Warren, Artful Lives: Edward Weston, Margrethe Mather, and the Bohemians of Los Angeles, Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2011, p. 39.
Warren identifies the two sitters as the nieces of Flora Chandler Weston. In Reverie is also included in an illustrated “Exhibition Checklist” for Edward Weston: Portrait of the Young Man as an Artist, a show prepared by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions in 2017. The exhibition checklist describes the photograph as follows: “Emily and Lillian Ellias (Flora’s Nieces), Dressed for Play, Outside Weston Home,” 1909, gelatin silver print, Collection: Family Album, Chandler Album A048.”

12 “Editorial Comment: Our Monthly Competition,” American Photography 4:4, April 1910, 214–215.
The reference to Weston, which appears on page 215 of the “Our Monthly Competition” column announcing Honorable Mentions, reads simply: “ ‘A Summer Idyll,’ Edward H. Weston.”

13 “Editorial Comment: Our Monthly Competition,” American Photography 4:7, July 1910, 416.
Eloise (Not in Conger) was awarded Honorable Mention by American Photography in its July 1910 “Monthly Competition” and is noted but not illustrated in the “Our Monthly Competition” column of the magazine’s “Editorial Comment” section as follows: “ ‘Eloise,’ by Edward H. Weston.”
The subject of this portrait is likely Eloise Seaman, Weston’s niece, the daughter of his sister, May and her husband John H. Seaman.

14 “Editorial Comment: Our Monthly Competition,” American Photography 4:11, November 1910, 658–659. (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)

15 “Home Portraiture Competition,” The Camera 14:5, May 1910, 192, 206. [Illus. p. 192] (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)
Although untitled in The Camera, this is a portrait of Helen Cole (Not in Conger).

16 Wilfred A. French, “Our Illustrations: Monthly Competition” [“Honorable Mention—Landscape with Figures”], Photo-Era 25:4 (October 1910), 193, 198, 206. [Illus. p. 193] (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)

17 It has been suggested, and is reasonable to accept, that Weston took this photograph as a submission to an actual Kodak contest. Alas, no evidence of this submission has come to light.

18 Elizabeth Flint Wade, “The Round Robin Guild Monthly Competitions: Awards—Marines,” Photo-Era 25:5, November 1910, 249. (Collection of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc.)

19 “Girded for the Closing Heat Tonight In ‘The Times’ Exciting Educational Race,” Los Angeles Daily Times, 3 September 1910, Part II, p. 7.
This bust-length portrait of Mary Pearl Pottol (Not in Conger) appears within an article describing the finalists in a Los Angeles Times Scholarship Contest. The illustration is accompanied by the following caption: “Photo by Weston, Tropico / Miss Mary Pearl Pottol, who is said to have a score somewhere around the 200,000 mark and is looked upon as a possible taker of the capital prize—but ‘there are others.’ ” A different Weston portrait of Mary Pearl Pottol also appeared in two earlier Los Angeles Daily Times articles describing the Scholarship Contest.

2 thoughts on “20 November 2019: Auspicious Beginnings: Weston’s Earliest Photography Magazine Critiques, 1906–1910

  1. Paula,
    It is impressive how you can take dusty periodicals and turn them into intelligent and informative text. Bravo. Glad Paul’s collection of old periodicals is being used – they take up a lot of space.
    Can’t wait for your next installment.
    David
    Margolis & Moss

    Like

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