Keesee, who acquired the Brett Weston Archive in 1996, has made a number of gifts to museums across the United States. The Archive reached out to Eskenazi in August 2021 and has since worked with the museum to curate the selected 50 photographs, Eskenazi’s Assistant Curator of Photography, Lauren Richman said.
According to the Archive, Weston studied under his father, modernist photographer Edward Weston, throughout the 1920s in Mexico. He was surrounded by renowned artists such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Tina Modotti.
Weston went on to create high contrast, black and white photographs of plants, deserts, pebbles, kelp and other natural objects. His closely-shot work appears abstract as it reduces its subject to its most pure form, according to the Archive.
IU’s first professor of photography, Henry Holmes Smith, was colleagues with both Edward and Brett Weston. After Edward Weston died in 1958, Brett Weston sold several of his father’s works to IU, which now has vast collections of both of the Westons’ pieces, according to Eskenazi’s press release.
Richman said the photographs are currently being held in museum storage, and Eskenazi does not have specific plans yet for how to display them.
In the future, the museum could potentially include the photographs in course viewings or design future public events around them, Richman said. She said she’s glad the photographs will strengthen Eskenazi’s collection.
“It really helps to tell a more detailed and complete story of both that period in American photography, but also that period in both of the Westons’ careers,” Richman said.
Richman said she was inspired by Smith’s abstract style in his own work when selecting which of Weston’s pieces to include.
“I wanted to focus on abstraction because of IU’s own DNA,” Richman said.
Richman said she’s been particularly struck by Weston’s attention to detail, his ability to contextualize objects and closely study their form.
“He takes you out of the scene as a means for getting you to pay attention to exactly what you're looking at,” Richman said.
Weston is particularly known for his photographs of sand dunes – images highlighted with distinctive light and shadow to emphasize the ridges and lines in white sand. Richman said the dunes are her favorite pieces of Weston’s.
“There's just a really beautiful, meditative quality to those prints,” Richman said. “That extends a real kind of tangible, palpable feeling that you get when standing in front of those. You can kind of feel the air of the desert as it makes those beautiful abstract ridges.”
David Brenneman, Wilma E. Kelley director of the Eskenazi Museum, said he’s glad the museum will eventually be able to make Weston’s work accessible to those interested in the history of photography or American modern art.
“It's really a treasure house, it's one that is particularly distinguished by both the breadth and depth of the collection,” Brenneman said. “As stewards of those collections, we look for ways not only to preserve and share what we have, but to continue to add things to the collection to make them even greater resources from which to learn.”
Brenneman said he’s looking forward to the Indiana community discovering Weston’s work.
“It sort of came out of the blue,” Brenneman said. “But, it's certainly a very welcome gift.”