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Those Who Inspire Me (and Why) — A Media Book by Brooks Jensen

Each Thursday Brooks records another commentary and we post it here at LensWork Online. The audio versions are found here. There is also a text version for each commentary for those who prefer to read rather than listen.

From the Author's Preface:

"I started writing this book about 7 years ago. After considerable thought, instead of publishing this content as traditional book, Those Who Inspire Me (and Why) will be published here, as a series of downloadable audios and text. Consider it a small token of my immense gratitude to all those who have pioneered this way of life that I love, and a passing-on of the invaluable contributions they've made to our creative lives." Brooks Jensen, Anacortes, Washington, 2019

A Visionary from the Past

Brett Weston — Avoiding Distractions

Brett Weston is one of fine art photography's most flamboyant characters, and the object of many apocryphal stories — some of which might actually be true. He was a legendary skirt chaser — a characteristic that we might cringe at today, but was considered quite macho back in his day. He was soft-spoken, but forcefully opinionated. He was, of course, one of four sons of Edward Weston and no doubt the one who has contribute the most to photography. Considering the challenge he must have faced living in the shadow of his father, it's remarkable that he was able to accomplish so much and inspire so many.

Perhaps Brett Weston's photography is best remembered for his exquisite abstracts, his ability to see images where most people didn't. He was a real pioneer in abstract photography, and that's why I include him in the Visionaries, because he saw things that most people just didn't. But for me, it was his portfolios that are the most interesting. As I recall, he produced 16 finished portfolios, complete with art box enclosure and consisting of anywhere from 10 to 15 prints. I know of no other photographer who has produced such a variety of topics or so many portfolios as Brett Weston. Perhaps he was inspired by the portfolios of Ansel Adams — who was also committed to that medium for his photography. I'm not sure. But clearly, Brett Weston must have thought in terms of projects in order for this productivity to happen. In truth, he might have been motivated by the commercial possibilities, too. Weston was also legendary for his disregard for money or the trappings of commercial success. That said, he did love fast cars and modern gadgets and he needed money and, so, who knows, maybe that was a motivation for doing the portfolios. We are fortunate (thanks to Portland photographer Gerry Robinson) to have a couple of extended audio recordings of Brett Weston made in the 1960s when he was visiting Portland. They can be found in the audio archive section of LensWork Online. It's simply fascinating to hear him speak about his creative life — particularly because these recordings are very impromptu, conversational, they are not formal lectures. It's a real glimpse into the creative mind of this character of photography.

There is a story about Brett Weston which he seems to have promulgated himself a bit — at least he never denied it — that he did have to pay taxes for over a decade because he never made enough money to meet the minimum threshold for filing at tax return. I have no idea if this was true or not, but I do know the economics of fine art photography from 1950 to the late 1960s, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear that it is true. Either way, with this story he conveys the sense of dedication to photography as something larger than ourselves, something worthy of our commitment and work even at the expense of financial success, something lasting and meaningful that comes through his persona of the starving artist. I don't think he actually was a starving artist, but he might have been a lot less financially secure than some of the other famous artists from the Carmel area.

There is one other story about Brett Weston that has become more important to me as I age myself. He was pressed upon to teach a workshop — he was notoriously reticent about teaching workshops — and he decline as he normally did. He was then asked why he was so stingy with his time. Didn't he have any regard for helping the younger generation of photographers? The story goes that his response was quite honest: He simply was too busy creating his artwork to take the time to try to teach others how to do theirs. He suggested that it was far more important for him to lead by example than it was to handhold younger photographers through the craft of photography. He claimed there were others (I suppose he meant Ansel Adams) who were dedicated teachers and better at it than he would ever be, and he needed to get back to work. I suppose this sounds rather callous on the surface, but now that I am in my mid-sixties, I can understand his sense of the value of time for making art. We are all limited by the clock and there are fewer years left for us with each passing year. He may have overlooked the possibility of finding a balance between teaching and artmaking, but I do understand his point. If we really do think our artwork is important, it serves us well to guard that precious time with vigilance. It may be cliché to say so, but cameras and lenses are far less important to our creative life than is the one commodity we have in such limited supply — and that is time.