Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A partnership informed by light

Author to explore pioneer photographers

?Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather?A Passionate Collaboration? by Beth Gates Warren. W. W. Norton & Co. $39.95. 160 pps.

One of the most revered of American photographers, Edward Weston was a pioneer. He spawned a naturalist style in which the human form took on the look of nature and vice versa. One of his earliest collaborators was a woman named Margrethe Mather. In few of his biographies is she mentioned, which is like erasing the influence of one's education.

Mather was "the first important person" in his life, Weston wrote not long after their 12-year relationship ended in 1925.

Recognizing the omission, Beth Gates Warren, a renowned art consultant and independent museum curator, wrote "Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather—A Passionate Collaboration."

Sponsored by Judith and Richard Smooke, Warren will lead a slide presentation on the book, on Thursday, March 13, at 7 p.m. at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum.

Warren, a former director of the Photographs Department and a senior vice president of Sotheby's, is recognized as one of the leading experts in the photographic field.

Weston was born in Highland Park, Ill., (near where Warren now lives) and Mather in Salt Lake City. She was a bohemian who deserted her Mormon roots for Los Angeles and a career in photography. In 1913 she visited Weston's studio. He was passionately in love with her for a time, and their close relationship eventually led them to work as artistic partners. Her influence on his work is akin to the influence of Alfred Stieglitz on everyone; they were contemporaries and clearly shared their ideas. Many of their photographs of that period were co-signed by both Weston and Mather. Their work helped set the tone for the shift from softly focused romantic pictorialism to the modernity of form and light.

Though Weston was married to Flora Chandler at the time and Mather was reputedly more interested in women, the partners had a brief affair. Their relationship faltered once he left L.A. for Mexico with Tina Modotti in 1923. Mather continued on at Weston's studio but never sought the spotlight. Eventually she abandoned photography altogether.

Warren's book presents more than 90 duotone images credited to Weston, Mather and the two together. It chronicles their relationship and reveals Weston's growing artistic powers under her influence. As well, it looks at Mather's mysterious past, artistry and sexual identity, which were ultimately overshadowed by Weston's reputation and his celebrated association with Modotti.

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