I have no doubt the Sierra Club exhibit format books of the 1960’s, all of them published in my teenage years, were instrumental in shaping my environmental and outdoors ideology. They held revelations of the worlds available to me so much bigger than those I’d become personally attached to on backpacking trips near Big Sur. They also introduced me to landscape photography. I vividly recall one untitled photograph in particular by Edward Weston. I even think I can still visualize it on the page. I imagined the view he captured as one I could easily have seen, camera in hand, while hiking along the Coast Ridge Road a little south of Big Sur. I had seen that view many times but I had not seen THAT. Weston might have taken it nearly anywhere, facing west, of course, but this is one image that stuck with me from those books and I don’t even recall in which one it was. So simple…just a few lines, only one of them straight, but indistinct, suggesting infinity…probably my first sense of non-Ansel-Adams photography as art. I didn’t even know who Edward Weston was but the photo really inspired me because I thought I might do something like it. Ahem.
Recently, over a half-century later, that image came to mind as I read the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. One of the authors talks about how he remembers to within one heartbeat the moment he first saw an Edward Weston print, walking in a dim hallway at the UCLA Library. He wrote, “It was unlike anything else I had seen. It was something more…something….than other photographs, particularly my photographs. It was different in kind. …That photograph was mine to experience, but neither it, nor anything like it, was mine to make.”
Which Weston image was it? We aren’t told. Knowing which would constrain the message. I know what my lightbulb image was and today I learned its name, Grass Against the Sea. Looking for it I Googled “grass pacific weston” and of course, up it came. Finding things is so much simpler. It is now easy without much scholarship to learn the history of photography and photographers…but good questions not so easily Googled are answered only for ourselves, if at all. Bayles or Orland ask one of those questions that flowed from the first Weston print experience. “…[It was] more years still before I thought to question where the power of such art resided: In the maker? In the artwork? In the viewer?” Indeed! Surely that power resides in all three — latent, waiting for a first glance when even just one of those power sources triggers a cascade of appreciation. Or, when we love an image we keep coming back to, all the the sources of its power, whatever they are, switch on and can be felt, yet again.