Another quote from Edward Weston’s Daybooks, on meeting Alfred Stieglitz in November 1922
In my enthusiasm I do not accept Stieglitz as an infallible master, nor would he want me to. He said: “Friends made me out a god, when all I asked was to be treated as a human being, then turned on me when I couldn’t be all they asked and 291 closed. But I have been thankful to every person who has hurt me. There has been one who has stood by me through it all -a girl from Texas. You see her paintings here stacked all around this room, this room that my brother allows me-and one for O’Keeffe downstairs. I have nothing left, deserted by friends and wife and child-yet in no period of my life have I been so enthusiastic and interested in photography and anxious to work.
At one time, this would have been a familiar sentiment to me. But I put my cameras down the last time this happened, and started playing with words instead. But the urge keeps coming back. I do want to photograph again someday, it’s just such an emotional investment.
Yes, O’Keeffe has painted and I have photographed, I will show you.” Then he showed us a few of his photographs, perhaps ten; most were in storage. The hands sewing, the breasts, a rather abstract nude. “Ah, you do feel deeply,” Stieglitz said, “and that little girl over there trembles with emotion” (as much from the barrage of words as from the photographs!-E. W.) “You will go away and tell of this meeting and some will say ‘Stieglitz has hypnotized you,’ but I have only bared to the world a woman’s life. Every woman has her virginal moments, even a prostitute. I have tried to grasp such moments too.
I really love Weston’s interpolation about the quality of Stieglitz’s words. Steiglitz, I think, is perhaps remembered more for what he said than what he created. But there’s such an honesty there. I don’t think anyone has ever equaled his series of portraits of O’Keeffe.
The struggle is to live and express life untouched by the ideas of neighbors and friends. After all we only know what we feel, and I have been unafraid to say what I feel. You see that in my work. I have broken every photographic law, optics included. I have put my lens a foot from the sitter’s face because I thought when talking intimately one doesn’t stand ten feet away; and knowing that it takes time to get deep into the very innermost nature of matter, I have given exposures of several minutes stopped way down.
I’m interested in how Steiglitz thought it possible to live a life “untouched by the ideas of neighbors and friends.” This doesn’t seem possible to me, at all. But with high-church modernism like this, it’s a common proclamation.
You see my prints, the eye is able to wander all over them, finding satisfaction in every portion, the ear is given as much consideration as the nose, but it is a task, this desire to obtain detail and simplification at the same time. To make your subject forget a headrest during such long exposures is heartbreaking. If you had come to me four years ago I should not have been ripe to give you what I do now.” Nor I ripe to receive it.
Returning to remarks on my work I quote Stieglitz: “I like the way you attack each picture as a fresh problem, you are not formulated. This is very interesting, and this the first complete failure you have shown. There must be an absolute release, nothing left unconsidered. But I will show you! I see you are not satisfied. You do not think you are great do you?” Then with a laugh, “I don’t think that I am.”
Absolute release. Yes, art should be sexy shouldn’t it?