The Black-and-White Photography of Edward Weston, by Richard Spilman

This is what color cannot do,

unmask the homeliest form:

military bearing in a bedpan,

passion in a mushroom;

a cathedral in half an artichoke.

Color is camouflage, but these breathe

like an early morning field 

of snow over the litter of a city.

1. Pepper #30, 1930

The most famous of his peppers,

photographed in a tin funnel,

pocked sides rising into obscurity.

At the stem the lobes meet

like lovers subsiding, eyes closed,

nuzzling the flesh they buried

their teeth in—their shadows

the dusk on the other side

of ecstasy. All love is captured here:

the curving upon itself, the strain

of flesh against the delight and limit

of its skin, caught as if in volcanic ash

in a moment of fulfillment and loss,

as if all darkness could be distributed

within the folds of these undulations,

as if intimacy were a form of light.

2. Kelp and Pebbles, 1934

Here is the signature of god

in a swoop of seaweed

upon a wave-washed congregation

of stone, a clear but impenetrable

sign, the unspeakable name of the sea.

3. Jose Clemente Orozco

At first, the strong face woos you,

dark hair pressed back by two

hands hurriedly, the square jaw 

tilted upward as if in challenge

to a rival shouting from a dais.

But then you catch the reflection

in his glasses, the window curved

into an arch, against which Weston,

himself, stands bent over the camera

squarely in the center of Orozco’s

eye—the old 8X10 with the pinhole

light leak he could never find.

So who, in this picture is the man

Orozco? The artist, the revolutionary,

glaring into an uncertain future, stern

and clear eyed, or the subject

reflecting his maker, lens upon lens?

4. Elise, 1933

He asked her to sit for him,

but she would not—indignant.

“You would discover things

which are none of your business.”

They compromised, finally,

on an ear, perhaps a little more.

Poor Elise! Didn’t you know

that the ear is a doorway,

and the soul melts from its

folds, conversant as the sheets

on a bed lovers have abandoned?

5. Dunes, Oceano and the Untitled Nudes, 1934 

    (often displayed together)

Charis first, her face hidden, her body

angled against its curves, then the dunes

like a storm at sea, and when you stand

back, you discover what love in another

language has already taught you:

That a woman’s body moves like desert

sand in waves, sharp-edged yet smooth, 

of light and dark, remaking itself

in steep rises that cannot be climbed

without sinking and valleys so deep

you cannot descend far enough to enter.

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