Of this photograph Weston wrote in his Daybooks, "… seeing an old bedpan, I took one look, and fell hard. I have an exquisite negative. It might easily be called 'The Princess' or 'The Bird' [both sculptures by Constantin Brancusi]! It has a stately, aloof dignity-stood on end-'form follows function' again." Weston adopted the "form follows function" dictum, originally coined by the modern American architect Louis Sullivan to describe his aesthetic in skyscraper design, as his own credo in the mid-1920s and spent the remainder of his career extracting the essential structure of objects before his camera. Like other modernist photographers such as Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, his work proved that the formal character of the photograph could override the content, but, unlike them, he preferred to use recognizable, everyday objects from the natural and industrial world to assert his claim. It would be difficult to find a more homely object with which to inspire an aesthetic response than an old bedpan, but Weston managed to do just that in this photograph. It eschews the documentary role of the medium so completely that the subject of the photograph becomes not the object within the frame, but the beautiful simplicity and unmannered geometry of the picture.
Inscription: Inscribed in pencil on mount, verso BL, sideways: "D185 EWSF"
Paul Arma; [Sotheby's, New York, May 8, 1984, Lot #361]; John C. Waddell
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "On Photography: A Tribute to Susan Sontag," June 6, 2006–September 4, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklański Selects from the Met Collection," March 17–June 14, 2015.
Newhall, Nancy, ed. Daybrooks of Edward Weston: California. Vol. 2. Rochester: George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, 1961. no. 26.
Hambourg, Maria Morris. The New Vision: Photography between the World Wars, Ford Motor Company Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989. p. 49.
Conger, Amy. Edward Weston: Photographs from the Collection of the Center for Creative Photography. Tucson: Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, 1992. fig. 582.
Uklański Piotr. Piotr Uklański: Fatal Attraction. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2015. p. 107.
Weston facetiously titled this photograph: "Form Follows Function" [Daybooks, Vol.II, p.144] and exhibited it with this title in his exhibition at Braxton's Gallery, Hollywood, CA, in 1930. For more information about the "bedpan" see: The Daybooks of Edward Weston, Vol.II, Rochester and New York, NY: George Eastman House/Horizon Press, 1966, pp.140, 144, 174.