Remembering Cole Weston: Master of Color Photography

"Palo Corona Ranch" by Cole Weston, 1962

"Palo Corona Ranch" by Cole Weston, 1962

To see color as form means looking at the image in a new way, trying to free oneself from absorption in subject matter.
— Cole Weston
Portrait of Cole Weston by Edward Weston, 1942 Collection Center for Creative Photography © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

Portrait of Cole Weston by Edward Weston, 1942

Collection Center for Creative Photography © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

Cole Weston, born on January 30, 1919 in Los Angeles, was the fourth and youngest son of famed 20th Century photographer, Edward Henry Weston. Cole received his first camera, a 4 by 5 Autograflex, from his brother Brett in 1935. Cole graduated with a degree in theater arts from the Cornish School in Seattle in 1937 and then served in the Navy during World War II as a welder and photographer.

After his discharge from the Navy in 1945 Cole worked for Life Magazine. In 1946 he moved to Carmel to assist his father Edward. During this time Eastman Kodak started sending their new color film, Kodachrome, for Edward to try out. Cole took this opportunity to experiment with this new medium and eventually became one of the world’s great masters of fine art color photography.

In 1957 Cole began shooting his first color photographs of the magnificent Big Sur coast, Monterey Peninsula and central California. At this time he carried on his own portrait business while assisting his ailing father, who passed away in 1958. Edward had authorized Cole to print from Edward’s negatives after his death, so Cole continued printing Edward’s work while pursuing his own fine art photography. 

"Surf and Headlands" by Cole Weston, 1958

"Surf and Headlands" by Cole Weston, 1958

"Storm, Point Lobos" by Cole Weston, 1977

Friends of Photography & the Center for Photographic Art

In the mid 1960s, when Carmel’s public school relocated to a new building, Cole Weston, in his 40's at the time, was approached for his interest in using the space where he and his brother had once attended grade school. Under Cole's management as its first director, the space became  the site for one of the most significant organizations in contemporary photography.

In a 2009 article featuring an interview with Richard Garrod, the photographer recalls "[Friends of Photography] began as informally as Cole saying to Ansel, ‘Why don’t you and your pals open up a gallery? I have this room in the Center.’” 

The participants in the first Friends of Photography exhibition were Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Brett and Cole Weston, and Minor White. From that day forth, Friends’ exhibitions, workshops, seminars and publications involved the greatest names in modern American photography.

Cole Weston (left) and Brett Weston by Bernard Plossu

Cole Weston (left) and Brett Weston by Bernard Plossu

"Friends" shared artistic DNA with Group f/64, an association of California photographers dating back some 30 years earlier. The group included Adams, Cunningham and Edward Weston, and was focused on establishing broad principles for artistic photography. With such capable artists, those principles quickly evolved into an aesthetic built around super-sharp black-and-white prints often made from long exposures.

Ansel Adams by Edward Weston

Collection Center for Creative Photography © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

Edward Weston by Willard van Dyke

The original home of the Friends of Photography, located in Carmel’s Sunset Center, was founded by Adams, Bullock, Cole Weston, and other creative luminaries in 1967. When the Friends relocated to San Francisco, the newly formed Center for Photographic Art inherited their space. This year marks fifty years of photography in this historic location, making it the second oldest members’ photography gallery space in America.

On Saturday, October 28, 2017, the CPA will formally celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Friends of Photography gallery as not only an exhibition space, but a center for workshops, lectures and fellowship around the subject of fine-art photography, particularly how it evolved in the wide-open American West. The event will feature Kim Weston, a 3rd generation fine art photographer and Cole Weston's son, who will speak about the important role his father played in the gallery's founding.

"Combine, Missouri" by Cole Weston, 1987

"Combine, Missouri" by Cole Weston, 1987

In the history of photography there are but a few masters of color photography, Cole Weston is assuredly one of these masters of the medium whose dramatic powerful images are a source of great joy and pleasure.
— Michael Hoffman, Aperture Publications

Cole Weston with his son, Kim Weston, at Weston Beach in Point Lobos State Reserve.

Cole and Kim Weston at Weston Beach in Point Lobos State Reserve.