|By Kathy McKimmie
ELKHART, Ind. – Three generations of family photography - having its roots in the iconic work of Ansel Adams - is expected to generate nationwide interest among artists and collectors in this northern Indiana city.
The eye-opening exhibit, Discovery/Rediscovery: Three Generations of the Weston Family of Photographer, includes 116 images and is on display now through Oct. 6 at the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, Ind.
Included are iconic photographs by Edward Weston (1886-1958), a pioneer, with contemporary Ansel Adams (1902-1984), in black and white photography. Some of Weston&rsuquo;s images were printed by the artist and others by his son Cole Weston (1919-2003).
Both landscape and figurative images by Edward Weston&rsuquo;s eldest son Brett Weston (1911-1993) are shown, as well as images by grandson Kim Weston (1953- ), who focuses on nudes and landscapes.
Kim Weston lives with his wife Gina at Wildcat Hill, the former studio and home of Edward Weston in Carmel, Calif. He has been greatly influenced by the work of his grandfather, learned his craft by assisting his father, Cole, and worked as an assistant to his uncle Brett for many years. He is also an educator who offers workshops and mentors younger photographers in Monterey County. The Westons created the Weston Scholarship Fund in 2004 to support local high school and college students studying analog black and white photography.
Visitors to the museum on its special “Weston Weekend” will get a chance to hear Kim Weston speak about his work and comment on the photographs of his grandfather and uncle at a members-only reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., on Aug. 17. On Aug.18, at 2 p.m. the Midwest premier of Growing up Weston, a documentary released in May, will be shown. More information on the documentary can be found at www.westonscholarship.org.
Although the exhibit has been in the planning stages for two years, the works didn&rsuquo;t have to travel far. They are from the collection of Dr. Rick and Cindy Burns, Elkhart. He is the museum&rsuquo;s board chairman and the son of Jane Burns, director, co-founder, and major donor to the 34-year-old museum, housed in the neoclassical former bank building on Main Street.
“I have always been attracted to photography–both as photographer and admirer of the aesthetic,” said Rick Burns. “It is special in the art world as a relatively new entrant and continues to evolve as we enter the digital age. Photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams were instrumental in establishing a place for photography in the art world.”
A collector of many things since he was a kid, in the mid-1990s Burns began buying photographs from Christie&rsuquo;s and Sotheby&rsuquo;s in New York. “In retrospect, I was quite naive in my knowledge of photographs and the people who made them,” he said. He discovered the three Westons one by one.
First he purchased the Brett Weston “Fifteen Photographs” portfolio in 1995, primarily due to the iconic photograph Garrapata Beach. That purchase led him to discover Edward Weston&rsuquo;s work. “I found that Edward and Brett Weston photographed the natural world and the nude, both favorites of mine.”
In collecting Edward Weston, he heard all the quotes and comparisons to Ansel Adams (whose work he also collects), like “Ansel Adams is every man&rsuquo;s favorite photographer, but Edward Weston is the connoisseur&rsuquo;s favorite.” Those comments made him look more closely at Weston and his impact on photography. “He and Ansel lived in the same region and had mutual friends in the art world,” Burns said. “They often photographed the same subject matter with a different artistic perspective.” Burns&rsuquo; favorite Ansel Adams portrait is of Edward Weston.
“Edward Weston was committed to photography as art at a time when photography was not in museum collections,” said Burns. “He had an extraordinary dedication to his craft and lived his life as a pauper.” Burns noted that several vintage Edward Weston photographs have sold in the six and seven figures.
Later on, Burns discovered Kim Weston through his research and signed up for a “print of the month” program similar to what Edward Weston started during the 1930s in difficult financial times. “I receive a new print from Kim Weston every month and Kim decides what photograph to include.”
Even without a special show to draw attention, the MMAA surprises casual visitors with the depth and scope of its collection from the mid-19th century to the present, including works by Thomas Sully, Robert Reid, Robert Henri, Norman Rockwell, Milton Avery, George Luks, Grandma Moses, Grant Wood, Hans Hofmann, Chicago Imagist artist Roger Brown and works on paper by many women artists, such as Isabel Bishop, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler. It&rsuquo;s become a destination for pottery lovers too, with its extensive collection of Indiana pottery, especially that of the Overbeck sisters, Cambridge City; and Karl Martz and Becky Brown, who worked in Nashville and Bloomington.
But this latest exhibit apparently feeds the public&rsuquo;s desire to view fine art photography. Over its more than three decade history, the two special exhibits generating the most attendance, said curator Brian Byrn, have been photography: Roadworks: The Photographs of Linda McCartney, and Emotions in Black & White: The Photographs of Ansel Adams. We&rsuquo;ll know in October if the Westons will join that short list.
Burns thinks people like photography because it&rsuquo;s ubiquitous in our lives; it&rsuquo;s embedded in our pop culture. It preserves the events and times of our life from the photographer&rsuquo;s viewpoint and is an effective historical record of the way things were. “I love exhibitions of paintings and sculpture,” he said, “but want to help insure that photography has a place in the art world and am excited to provide the opportunity to see a professionally curated exhibition that was assembled over almost 20 years.”
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