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Weston: two shows put his life and art in focus

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Alongside Alfred Stieglitz and Ansel Adams, Edward Weston (1886-1958) ranks among the foremost American photographers. His prolific career spanned three decades and encompassed many of the major innovations of American modernism. From his first professional photos of doe-eyed beauties posturing against stark studio walls to his last images of cypress trees silhouetted against quiet skies, Weston's photographs exude a rare and masterful tension between visual drama and pure, economical form. Now two West Coast exhibitions (one divided between two locations) have come along to chronicle Weston's life and work: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is host to an impressive and insightfully selected retrospective, ``Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston.'' The 237-piece show, organized by Arizona University's Center for Creative Photography, continues through Feb. 15. Thereafter it will tour museums in 13 cities, including Seattle, Atlanta, Washington, and Cincinnati.

In Los Angeles (through January), the Getty Museum in Malibu and the Huntington Library in Pasadena draw from their important Weston holdings to mount the joint offering ``Edward Weston in Los Angeles.''

Fortunately, Weston was an articulate artist with a public persona and an eye to leaving a written as well as visual legacy. His copious letters and diaries were self-consciously edited as if intended for public viewing. These writings have been backed up by biographical data painstakingly gathered by photohistorian Beaumont Newhall, curator of the ``Supreme Instants'' exhibition. Combined with these West Coast shows, they produce an unusually thorough and candid profile.

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