More Than A Snapshot.
By Gregory McNamee
Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston, by Charis Wilson and Wendy Madar (North Point). Cloth, $40.
CHARIS WILSON WAS nationally famous 60-odd years ago, thanks to the series of nudes her photographer husband Edward Weston shot of her in places like Yosemite and Death Valley--nudes that were published in the leading arts journals of the day.
The daughter of Harry Leon Wilson, the author of Ruggles of Red Gap and other contemporary best-sellers, Wilson was 27 years Weston's junior. But, like him, she was a passionate reader, filmgoer, and follower of Franklin Roosevelt, and from these shared interests they formed a marriage that lasted for many years despite the difference in age, and despite Weston's philandering and sometimes petulant ways. That marriage eventually dissolved, evidently without hard feelings. Wilson clearly admires her ex-husband for his character and for the world in which he lived: all Brancusi sculptures, jazz sessions, and parties with the likes of Ansel Adams, Robinson Jeffers, Merle Armitage, and other mainstays of the Carmel, California, bohemian community. She admits that Weston, like many a creative type, had his difficult qualities, but she defends him stoutly against biographers who take the Weston found in his journals and daybooks to be the man himself, a man "dogmatic, fierce, uncompromising, licentious, obsessed by death, and so on." Weston was to some degree all these, she writes; yet she goes on to observe, "the self is too cumbersome, various, and confusing to be successfully transcribed, so you settle for a stand-in who can represent you by bearing a number of your salient traits."
Wilson, who accompanied Weston throughout the years of his most accomplished photographic work, does much to flesh out this stand-in. She also provides, with a light but sure touch, an intellectual history of Weston's time and place, pre-World War II California. The result is a well-written, sympathetic, and altogether enjoyable biography of a great artist.
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