Watch: Edward Weston, Spirituality in the Dunes

Giles Huxley-Parlour introduces this exquisite 1940s print of one of Edward Weston’s celebrated Dune photographs, executed in 1936 at Oceano in California.

Considered by many to be Weston’s most accomplished series of images, the twenty nine Dune photographs that resulted from his time at Oceano certainly show the artist at the peak of his creative powers. Weston first visited the area briefly in 1934, but returned two years later with his lover and muse, Charis Wilson, for an extended period of photography. He found the undulating landscape perfectly suited to his interest in form and pattern, and produced work that encapsulated many of the ideas he had been developing about the photographic image.

“To clearly express my feeling for life with photographic beauty, present objectively the texture, rhythm, form in nature, without subterfuge or evasion in technique or spirit, to record the quintessence of the object or element before my lens, rather than an interpretation, a superficial phase, or passing mood – this is my way in photography. It is not an easy way.”

In this image, as in many from this series, Weston reduces the landscape to vivid, interlocking, two-dimensional patterns. The tops of the dunes elegantly snake through the composition, enhanced by the strong contrast of the low, raking light. As the print is a contact print from a large-format negative, the granular sand is revealed in intense clarity and interplays with the smooth and satisfying blackness of the darker areas.

Sand Dunes in black and white

Like all of Weston’s best work, this image was intended as an altarpiece to mother nature, using the exquisite detail to create a transcendental experience in which her intangible power was revealed to the viewer, “showing to them what their own unseeing eyes had missed.”

One of the most significant Modernists of the twentieth century, photographs by Edward Weston are highly sought after by collectors, and fall into two distinct camps – those that were printed by him, and those that were not. Suffering from Parkinsons Disease in later life Weston found it increasingly hard to print, and eventually handed over responsibility to his sons Brett and Cole who continued to make prints after his death in 1958. Those by Weston himself are of course the most sought after, though there is also a broad and healthy market in his sons’ prints, albeit at a lower price point.

This particular print is an exquisitely made example by Weston himself, printed in 1949 for a collector in Milwaukee. It is accompanied by a letter from Weston to the collector in which he confirms that only three prints of the image were made, and that it would not be printed again. He also states that it is”‘one of my favourite dunes.”

Explore More