Thursday, October 9, 2014

To Wes, Ponte Vedra Beach

Wes Disney was a photographer/artist/muralist in Burlington, VT when I lived there. I attended two of his workshops to my great benefit. His were unconventional workshops. I arrived at my first one, having been asked to bring recent work. At that point in time I printed every day in one of two darkrooms. So I brought the most recent 200 prints in two ratty old paper boxes. Everyone else brought carefully assembled portfolios. The first night we all ate copiously and drank beer and wine until the wee hours. We had a lot of laughs and, being a gregarious person, I was in the middle of  the give and take. We all stumbled up to bed and Wes stayed up and went through our pictures. When we came down he had everyone's portfolios assembled separately. There were some wonderful prints and good groups. Mine were nowhere in sight.....gulp. Wes critiqued everyone's work and then said that mine was a different problem, he couldn't choose.

The group of pictures I had brought were everything from work prints to finished work. I have never concentrated on one area of photography, probably to my detriment, but love trying every part of the discipline. Wes led us into the rec room, the workshop was in the early Spring at a summer camp, and, there on the ping pong table were all of my prints. Still he never critiqued them, just suggested people look at them.

That night we had an even better evening, good food, good laughs and great wine. Still no critique. Yikes. The next day was the last and we were all scheduled to leave by 2:00. At 1:00 Wes asked me to take a walk with him. We went around a corner and there was a barn in a field with a boat on a trailer around which the snow had blown. He asked if I saw anything and I said the the boat looked as if it was at full speed through the snow. He then said that he had looked for two days to find an example to show me and the boat was it. He said that I spotted it in a minute. Then he said that I should use my sense of humor in my photography and walked away. Done. Over. That was my critique. I spent a month trying to make funny pictures before it dawned on me that he meant use my quick wit and stop trying to be Edward Weston, or Irving Penn, two of my heroes, and take what I saw in a flash. It changed my personal work entirely.

Wes had a wonderful print in his studio of a lifeguard's chair, taken with his rickety old 8x10 camera. I loved it and never was smart enough to buy one. Wes got melanoma and died in 2000. I still miss him. This picture that I took last week is the latest and closest attempt to recreate that print. It doesn't come close but it keeps Wes in my mind.


Martina said...

Fine story.
Yes, that's you: witty and full of humour. And photos. Full of.

Markus said...

Fine image, James. That white painted wood in a certain way symbolizes the U.S. for those who have seen a lot of American photography, especially from the last century.

And I like the story. Just today I was listening to a professor artist who told that his university students need very different amounts of feedback. You seemed to have been in for one well formulated sentence, and his big quality as a teacher was the way he gave it to you as a task to find your solution for it. I take my hat off!

Carl said...

Great story to go with the picture. People seem to have a problem with humor in photography, perhaps because photographers have struggled historically to be taken seriously. Why? Do stand-up comics struggle to have their humor accepted seriously? Perhaps they do, come to think of it. But the goal really should be to hope people look at, and SEE, the pictures, however they interpret them.

James Weekes said...


Thank you. As my loyalest reader you are one of the reasons I keep posting. Seeing an LOL from you makes my day.

James Weekes said...


First of all, let me tell you that I have indeed, been following your blog. I haven't been commenting but that doesn't mean that I'm not very impressed. You have a lovely grasp of color (oops, colour) and the patience to wait for the moment.

I wish you could have seen Wes' image of an almost identical chair, on a beach, in the fog, taken with an 8x10 camera. It was ethereal. Yes, over here we love white painted wood. There are some resorts, Poland Spring being one that have huge buildings, all wood and all white, with wonderful gingerbread, the little decorative designs along the edges.

You are right, Wes was wonderful at spending hours with a student who needed the input and attention. He saw that I had a shorter attention span and a gentle nudge, not a map.

James Weekes said...


I finally felt freer when I found I no longer cared if people, especially the art establishment, considered photography art or craft or machine aided craft. It's photography and I love it. I love that it makes me look and see all the time. I love that, with no camera I can still point at something I see and have someone tell me that they would never have seen it if I hadn't done that. I love printing and seeing the result. I used to miss seeing a print come up in the Dektol, but now love watching it come out of the inkjet.

Thank you for your comments.

I go to get the print today at the frame shop.