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Passion Fruit

Edward Weston quested for the perfect pepper

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August 1, 1930:
"The glorious new pepper Sonya brought has kept me keyed up all week and caused me to expose eight negatives—I'm not satisfied yet."

Edward Weston photographed a lot of peppers. The most famous, sometimes labeled Pepper No. 30, was Weston in high form at the age of 44, full of confidence that he was forging in the smithy of his darkroom the tools for finding essence in simplicity, authenticity in the ordinary, a new vision for a new age.

Nine years later, on a back lot in Hollywood, Weston would photograph Rubber Dummies, MGM Studios. That photograph, on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 31, was Weston the whimsical, full of the coy perversity that would mark some of his later work—cat pictures, a nude wearing a gas mask.

Two pictures, two different expressions of modernism, one artist.

From his writings, re the pepper:

"I tried the light from the opposite side in the next morning light—brilliant sun through muslin. Better! And more failures....But the pepper is well worth all the time, money, effort....It is beginning to show signs of strain and tonight should grace a salad. It has been suggested that I am a cannibal to eat my models."

Weston was living amid the vast but oddly cozy ocean light of Carmel, California. Neighbors included photographer Ansel Adams and poet Robinson Jeffers, whose druidic seaside tower still stands. Weston was the exemplary bohemian who had fled the Middle West with his cameras, a belief in astrology and a penchant for wearing a velvet cape.

And a love of being in love. Despite the bony American Gothic severity he'd brought with him from Illinois to California, there were romantic intrigues in Mexico, Santa Monica and Carmel while his wife, Flora, from the wealthy Chandler family (which would later own the Los Angeles Times), supported him.

Of all the people in his life, Weston seems most devoted to his four sons, but his first love was photography and its revelations of nudes, dunes, cypress roots, wrecked cars, toilets, mountains, seaweed, driftwood, rocks, seashells, radishes, cabbages and peppers.

August 3:
"I still had the pepper which caused me a week's work. I had decided I could go no further with it, yet something kept me from taking it to the kitchen, the end of all good peppers."

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