From transforming Japanese reeds into abstract squiggles to highlighting the stark beauty of a dead leaf, Brett Weston’s photographs reveal his unusual way of seeing the world.
For the second time in five years, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is showing a substantial exhibition of the famed photographer’s work, thanks to a generous gift.
“The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is honored to have received 150 photographs over the past three years from the Christian K. Keesee Collection,” said E. Michael Whittington, the museum’s president and CEO, in a statement.
“Brett Weston’s photographs form an important part of the Museum’s growing photography collection, and we are excited to expand our holdings of this important photographer’s work and now share it during this outstanding exhibition.”
Organized by the museum, “Brett Weston: Land, Sea and Sky — Recent Gifts From the Christian K. Keesee Collection” opens Saturday in the first-floor special exhibitions gallery, where it will be shown alongside works by another famous 20th-century American photographer: Ansel Adams.
“Land, Sea and Sky” features examples of Brett Weston’s work from 1940 to 1985, including his mud, rock and ice abstractions, his striking images of dead birds and leaves and his close-up views of broken glass. The black-and-white photos also highlight his travels to Baja California, Michigan, Florida, Alaska, Mexico and Japan.
The 150 photographs in the exhibit were given to the museum between 2010 and 2012, said Museum of Art curator Alison Amick. Since 2004, the museum has received 360 Brett Weston photos from the Christian Keesee Collection. The museum showed more than 130 different examples of the California photographer’s work in the 2008 exhibit “Brett Weston: Out of the Shadow.”
The museum is excited to show more of Weston’s work thanks to the latest gift, Amick said.
“It certainly will have a different spirit than the last exhibition. It will have still some of his iconic images, but it will have some images that I really hadn’t seen before by Brett Weston, so I think that makes it really fascinating,” she said.
“The exhibit will be arranged thematically. It will look at different forms that inspired him. So, you’ll be able to really see the different places he traveled to make his photographs, but also you’ll get a sense for the quality of his eye and his ability to see these fascinating details and make these close-up abstractions.”
Born in 1911 in Los Angeles, Brett Weston was the second of acclaimed photographer Edward Weston’s four sons. In 1925, his father pulled him out of school and took him to Mexico to serve as his apprentice. Brett Weston, then 14, took his first photos in Mexico, where father and son spent time with modern artists Tina Modotti, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
In the 1920s and ’30s, working closely with his father, Brett Weston took nature and city-scape photos in California. He enlisted in the Army in 1943 and was stationed in New York City, where he photographed urban structures. He received a Guggenheim grant to shoot along the East Coast in 1947.
In 1948, he returned to California to care for his father, who had Parkinson’s disease, and help print his photos. Along the way, he shot the New Mexican desert, and in the 1950s, he produced expansive, Hollywood-influenced landscapes.
After his father died in 1958, Brett Weston focused on his own work, traveling often to Europe in the ’60s and ’70s. In the ’70s, he built a house in Hawaii, working and living there until his death in 1993.
Adams, Weston influence
“Brett Weston: Land, Sea and Sky” will be exhibited alongside another new photography exhibit. “Ansel Adams: An American Perspective” will feature nearly 60 black-and-white photographs and include examples of Adams’ work from 1920 to 1965.
Not only are Adams and Brett Weston celebrated American photographers renowned for their dramatic depictions of the natural world, but they were contemporaries. Adams and Edward Weston were among the San Francisco photographers who founded the influential Group f/64, and Brett Weston was invited to show with the group’s first exhibition in 1932.
“They were a part of really launching American photography, particularly on the West Coast,” Amick said. “Even though they’re both looking to the natural world for inspiration, their photographs are very different. Brett’s photographs are much more abstracted, close-up details. Ansel’s tend to be sort of grand, majestic views.”
But both artists tended toward images that are high-contrast, clean and crisp, and they were known for developing their own images, Amick said. Museum staffers have created a darkroom space that will separate the two exhibitions and show the process.
‘Ansel Adams: An American Perspective’
•When: Saturday through June 1.
•Where: Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch Drive.
•Members’ preview: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday. Free for members and $10 for nonmembers.
•Free Family Day: Noon to 5 p.m. April 13.
•Information: 236-3100 or www.okcmoa.com.