Brett Weston would ultimately become one of the giants of photography whose work influenced modern photography with its technical precision, bold design, and combination of abstraction and private imagination. Born in Los Angeles in 1911, he was the second son of the legendary photographer Edward Weston. Brett had a very close artistic relationship with his father, but did not follow directly in his father’s footsteps. In the early stages of his career, Brett was crafting his own clearly defined artistic vision apart from his father’s ideas and also apart from the rest of his photographic contemporaries. Both Weston’s were among the small prestigious group of California photographers in the 1930s, known as the Group f/64, which included Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham. They favored large-format view cameras, full frontal images, and stark black-and-white prints. For Brett, in particular, his intimate, graphic studies of the natural world reflect a stunning and insightful contemplation that broke new photographic ground. While the natural world was an undeniable inspiration to Weston, it was its intricacies that most captured his imagination. In what was an almost obsessive pursuit of detail, Weston captured the world around him in vivid, strikingly spare images. He paid close attention to the formal values of linearity, depth, and contrast. This approach utilizing his highly polished style would govern his original photography of dunes.
Brett began exploring the subject of dunes first in 1931 at the age of nineteen and he would work with them intermittently until the 1980s. Although the dunes were unknown artistic grounds in 1931, Brett’s dunes remain today unique in their seemingly three-dimensional nature, chiaroscuro, and emphasis on formal qualities. The dunes fulfilled Brett’s desire to pursue sensual forms that surpassed the actual subject. He exploited dramatic side lighting, sometimes working directly into the light, but used only the range of natural light for his compositions. His photographs are distinctly abstract but tied to the real world. For Brett, mornings were ideal for photographing the dunes. The cool of the night cleared the air and the wind was the most calm. Morning sunlight would transform the muted dune shapes into sharp-edged swirling forms. Brett would immerse himself fully in the environment often camping around the dunes he would capture with his camera. His approach in the field was rudimentary itself: all he required was a tripod-mounted camera over one of his shoulders, a maximum of two lenses, a blackout cloth, and a small pouch for film holders. Today, Brett Weston’s work is in numerous public collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. In the midst of chaotic landscapes, Brett’s compositions remain startling in their clarity of vision and organization bringing striking abstractions out of nature itself.