New York

Paul Caponigro and Edward Weston

Various Venues

The stature that Edward Weston and Paul Caponigro have is indicated not only by their gallery shows, but by the inclusion of each in “American Landscapes.” Nevertheless, the achievement of each seems to me limited. Their photographs overrefine Romanticism until it becomes a self-contradiction. The exquisiteness of the imagery contravenes nature. The pictures are at once both breathtaking and impersonal. They are like some highly wrought icon from the Old Russia. They are not so much works of art as objects of virtu. The artisan quality of Weston’s photography is underscored by the fact that most of the prints now in circulation have been made since his death by his son Cole.

Caponigro’s work escapes from the bell jar of his own values only when he takes a chance with a picture. Out of the more than two dozen photographs in this show, two achieve this: Running Deer, Wicklow, Ireland, 1967, and Tree and Cloud, County Galway, Ireland, 1970. In the former, motion blur makes the deer, scampering across the forest, look like bats silhouetted against the sky at dusk. This picture alone is worth all 12 of the show’s close-ups of sunflowers put together.

If Weston’s work is greater than Caponigro’s, this is because its inherent preciousness is overcome not by the photographer’s exceptions to his own rules, but by the intensification of them. In the heat of his pursuit of pure form and texture, Weston sometimes chased nature indoors so he could trap and isolate it under studio conditions. It was when carried to this extreme, in the photographs of shells and bell peppers, that his esthetic became truly powerful. Removed from nature itself, indeed from all setting or context except the carefully arranged light that shines on it, the vegetable form of the pepper reveals the eroticism Weston saw in all nature. The photograph becomes the kind of large generalization about nature that the works of Weston and Caponigro always aspire to, but seldom achieve.

Colin L. Westerbeck, Jr.