Saturday, November 28, 2009
Inexplicably, The Oregonian ran an obituary--remembrance, really--by Bruce Weber (a celebrated photographer in his own right) on the illustrious and illustrated life of Charis Wilson a week after she passed away.
Ms. Wilson may be best known for being Edward Weston's wife and model, but she was so much more. She was the love of Weston's life, his inspiration and, in some cases his eyes and words. Ms. Wilson wrote the grant application for Weston that earned him the first Guggenheim Fellowship awarded to a photographer. It was that grant that supported his work in the Mojave Desert, including his definitive work in Death Valley. Weston didn't drive, so Charis did. One of my favorite stories is that while Charis drove through the desert, Weston dozed in the car. She spotted what she took to be a Weston photograph, pulled the car over, and woke up the photographer. The rest of the story was caught on film. She also wrote many of the articles attributed to him, including many passages in his secondDaybook. Above is probably the most familiar of Weston's photographs of Ms. Wilson. It was reprinted with the obituary in The Oregonian. Ironically, it was this very photograph that had caused quite a stir when it was included in Wesotn's first major retrospective, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. There is scant evidence of Ms. Wilson's pubic hair in the shot, or as Weston called it, her "public hair." He was little more than amused at the uproar.
To me, this is probably the most revealing of all of Weston's photographs of Ms. Wilson and one of my favorite. Her stare is riveting, almost as if there was no camera there at all. She was just looking through it to Weston. She shows such incredible nakedness while being almost completely covered. She exudes confidence and such a strong sense of self. Her hands are so casually posed. There is a tension to the image, a daring, an almost intimidating honesty.
A good friend asked me not that long ago why there has never been a movie of Weston's life. A good question-- I have always thought he is the perfect subject-- Bohemian, enigmatic, arrogant, sensual. A man who literally defined the art of photography. To read about Weston is to read about a life filled with imagery and discovery, of friends and lovers, and most of all, of the eloquent nude. It is not hyperbole to say that Charis Wilson helped bring out some of Weston's greatest work-- as a model, as a lover, and as a collaborator.
Helen Charis Wilson died on November 20, at the age of 95.