Text from Weston's book America and Photography (1929)
EDWARD WESTON from 'America and Photography' (1929)
Photography in America is in a sadly anemic condition, - only a few strong figures outstanding. Generally speaking, the stage has been held by dextrous technicians who depart as far as possible from photographic quality: or on the other hand by those who think photography an easy way to release and expose their excess personal emotions or aspirations. They could not do so with such an honest, direct, uncompromising medium without resorting to tricks,-diffusion of focus, manipulation of prints, or worse, recording of calculated expressions and postures.
Hundreds of tired businessmen or tradesmen, and idle women, play with photography as a holiday hobby, - then offer their results as 'art!'
Opposing this facile approach is a photography free from technical tricks and incoherent emotionalism. The finished print is previsioned on the ground glass while focussing, the final result felt at that moment, - in all its values and related forms: the shutter's release fixes forever these values and forms, - developing [,] printing becomes only a careful carrying on of the original idea.
Those who feel nothing, or not completely at the time of exposure, relying upon subsequent manipulation to reach an unpremeditated end, are predestined to failure.
Nothing can be transmitted to another unless an original problem has been felt, conceived and solved: not a trivial problem of clever decoration or the personal ego, but the recording of the very quintessence and interdependence of all life.
Vincent Van Gogh wrote: 'A feeling for things in themselves is much more important than a sense of the pictorial.'
Photographers take note!
With a medium capable of revealing more than the eye sees, 'things in themselves' could be recorded, clearly, powerfully: but instead these 'pictorial' photographers resort to impressionistic blur.
Impressionism is scepticism; it puts what one casually notices above what one positively knows.
Not to interpret in terms of personal fancy, transitory and superficial moods, but present with utmost exactness, - this is the way in photo graphy, - and it is not an easy way. Vision, sensitive reaction, the knowing of life, all are requisite in those who would direct through the lens forms from out of nature, - maybe only a fragment, but indicating or symbolising life rhythms.
I have written of photography as 'direct, honest, uncompromising,' - and so it is when used in its purity, if the worker himself is equally sincere and understanding in selection and presentation. Then it has a power and vitality which moves and holds the spectator. There can be no lie in such photography. No human hand of possible frailty has in the recording lessened its pristine beauty, nor misrepresented its meaning, destroying significance.
A once well known photographer stated as an argument for controlled or manipulated prints that photography needed the vitalising influence of the hand. Then why photograph at all! The artist of brush and palette has a trained hand with which to better execute and express all things in a better way. Photography has, as already indicated, intrinsic value and use, apart from any other medium.
I have allowed the word 'art' to enter in? In this day of ever changing values it is immaterial whether or not photography can be labelled art. It is of our day, - we understand, respond to and need photography as a vital contemporary expression.
But for the sake of argument, - the difference between good and bad art in any medium or of any age lies in the creative mind rather than in skill of hands. The way of seeing is what counts and that is conditioned by the artist's attitude, not by his skill as craftsman. Given a big enough artist and lie will make of himself a consummate craftsman to better express his thoughts.
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