In my search for the Holy Grail of great photography, I found myself visiting Edward Weston’s home on Wildcat Hill, near Carmel, in May 2017, searching for location and inspiration. Location, because there’s nothing more moving than standing on hallowed ground walked before, tracing giant steps, ready to fall between the cracks, while searching for fact and fiction. How else do you seek to break barriers unless you travel the road trodden by the greats? Presumptuous? Maybe. But art, especially the art of photography, is about presumptions beyond the aesthetic norms.
I stood mesmerised in silence beside Kim Weston, Edward’s grandson and an acclaimed photographer in his own right, in Edward’s original darkroom. Here, Edward had printed Pepper No. 30 and his 1936 Nude in Doorway, images that have intrigued my aesthetic sensibilities and preoccupied my mind for the majority of my adult artistic life. His handwritten chemical formulas were still plastered to the wall, and his desk, lamp, annotated notes and visitors’ book were all as he had left them. Pictures of Edward with his friend Ansel Adams and many other illustrious creatives dotted the room, each object bathed in photographic light and history, offering pure creative inspiration.
This is also where magic happened, under the guiding hand of Kim Weston, for the next four days, as Kim and I talked, baked, ate and walked through Edward’s personal spaces at Wildcat.
A pair of Mexican terracotta candlesticks, lit regularly since the 1930s for gatherings of friends and family, sat atop a mantelpiece. Edward had brought these candlesticks back from Mexico in 1926, after ending a passionate affair with activist, artist and accomplished photographer Tina Modotti. These objects, in their original and poignant setting, triggered my own journey and creative fantasy. I began to reimagine Edward and Tina’s tumultuous affair, transported in time, space and place.
An Italian firebrand, Tina Modotti (born Assunta Adelaide Luigia Modotti Mondini, called Assuntina, and eventually Tina) emigrated to the United States from Udine, Italy, in 1913. She established herself as an actress before marrying the artist Roubaix de l’Abrie Richey and moving to Los Angeles, where she met Edward.
Tina and Edward shared a very special adventure together, one that went beyond a love for Mexico. They served as important catalysts in each other’s artistic development, with Tina introducing Edward to the heart of Mexican intellectual circles and Edward in turn sharing his passion for photography with Tina. They both produced pictures of exceptional beauty in an important time of social reform, the wake of the Mexican Revolution. This was a moment when bohemian intellect met political activism through artistic sentiment.
In their first years in Mexico, Tina organised exhibitions for Edward while widening their circle of friends to include Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Rivera in particular, who collaborated with Tina on his mural works (and in bed), introduced the two to radical Communist idealists. Despite a richly passionate and intellectually charged period together, as time passed Tina would bury herself deeper in politics while Edward longed to return to his family and California.
It is the passion in their relationship and the role of Tina as muse, temptress, collaborator and instigator that has intrigued me for years.
While photographing at Weston’s home surrounded by this history, I found that I began observing the body with an emphasis on purity of form and extracting an essence of the sublime feminine through shadow and light; presenting a more intimate portrait of ‘Woman’ with a capital W. I found myself constructing a visual interpretation of how I imagined Edward looked at Tina at the height of their passion, travelling the fine line between lust and trust, the untouchable and the intimate. In transposing myself into Edward’s imaginative psyche, I may have managed to get to know him just a little bit better. And that in itself was priceless.
London, September 2018