Arty Girl: Edward Weston at Phoenix Art Museum

By Lilia Menconi

Three Fish - Gourds by Edward Weston, 1925. (c)1981Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

I majored in art history for three reasons:

a. I love art b. I love history c. I love gossip

I thought I was alone on that last one until, one day, my classmates and I had a discussion about how we all got off when our professors dished about an artist's personal life. We learned who was effing who (photographer Alfred Stieglitz and painter Georgia O'Keefe had a lengthy and tumultuous relationship), which artists wanted to eff each other (photographers Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham were known for being “close friends”) and who wasn't effing anyone at all (Andy Warhol thought sex was icky).

What can I say? Maybe knowing the crazy behind each artist maybe made us feel better about the insane decision we all made to pick such a seemingly useless major.

So, because of my insatiable thirst for juicy gossip, I’ve always been a fan of Edward Weston. Not to mention, the guy took amazing photos. I mean, anyone who can do this with a bell pepper is aces in my book.

Pepper by Edward Weston, 1930

In 1908, Weston, after receiving formal photographic training at Illinois College of Photography, worked in California, making a living shooting portraits while creating artistic photographs on the side. He married a woman named Flora Chandler in 1909 and together, they had four children.

Shortly after his wedding, he met photographer Margrethe Mather who was his model for the next ten years. While I couldn’t find any proof that there was hanky-panky going on, he later called her “the first important woman in my life.” His poor wife - talk about a burn.

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But the real diss came in 1923 when he ran off to Mexico City with his apprentice and lover, Tina Modotti, leaving his wife and family in the dust. The two opened a photography studio and it is Weston’s work during this time period on which the Phoenix Art Museum exhibition focuses. But PAM spices it up a little by displaying photos by Modotti, who became a successful artist in her own right. And they include Weston’s letters and journal entries with the photographs. I, for one, can’t wait to read them. Who doesn’t want to read someone else’s diary anyway?

With all the drama, it’s no wonder Weston got a reputation for being a bad boy.

Which is probably why all of my art history professors used words like “sexual”, “seductive” and “provocative” to describe his beautiful bell peppers. What a bunch of gossips.

“Edward Weston: Mexico” opens August 9th at Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Avenue, 602-257-1222, www.phxart.org

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