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Faking It Symposium: Return of the Suppressed



Edward Weston (American, Highland Park, Illinois 1886–1958 Carmel, California)

Gelatin silver print
24.5 x 15.2 cm. (9 5/8 x 6 in.)
Credit Line:
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
©1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents
  • Description

    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.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed in pencil on mount, verso BL, sideways: "D185 EWSF"

  • Provenance

    Paul Arma; [Sotheby's, New York, May 8, 1984, Lot #361]; John C. Waddell

  • Notes

    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.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History