The following portraits of Mexican painter Jose Clemente Orozco are photoshop renditions of ten negatives found in the Anita Brenner collection in Mexico City.
Of these negatives, only one print is known to exist. That print was part of a Sotheby’s sale in Paris on November 19th, 2010, lot 28, and attributed at the time to Tina Modotti. I was the expert of the sale and I was wrong… Now I’ll explain why we can now attribute these images to Edward Weston.
We knew from Weston daybooks that on Sunday 4th 1926 Anita and Weston visited Jose Clemente Orozco studio, but Weston doesn’t mention taking photographs : « May 4. Sunday, Anita and I went to Coyoacan to visit with Orozco the painter. I had hardly known his work before, which I found fine and strong. His cartoons – splendid drawings, in which he spared no one, either capitalist or revolutionnary leader – were scathing satires, quite as helpful in destroying a « cause », heroes and villains alike, as a machine gun. I would place Orozco among the first four or five painters of Mexico, perhaps higher. » Edward Weston Daybook.
While working on Brenner’s daybook, published after the Sotheby’s sale, we realized that Weston had indeed take a few portraits of Orozco that day (interestingly, Anita gets the date wrong, May 2d instead of 4th)… : « Sunday, May 2 (sic). Went out this morning to Orozco’s studio with Edward Weston. Edward made some portraits of him. Orozco showed us some of his old things and a few studies for the frescos he is doing. I got a beautiful complementation to my article on him. Some drawings, a small oil painting on paper, and a large one, head, perfectly first class. »
So we know for a fact that Weston made some portraits of Orozco, and probably to be used by Anita Brenner for an article. It would explain why he did not print more from these negatives, and why they were found in Anita Brenner estate.
These portraits were not used in the article mentioned in Anita’s daybook (it is not clear what article she is talking about, but the portrait is not reproduce in Forma or Mexican Folkways, the two revistas she was involved with). She did published an article in New Masses in New York, in January 1927, but I have been unable to get a look at it.
Anyway, I am glad I can finally attribute these remarquable portraits to Edward Weston. It is quite unusual to recover such a important body of work from one of the greatest photographer of the XXth century.
Anita Brenner’s Journal of the Roaring Twenties, edited by her daughter Susannah Glusker, is available from the University of Texas Press : it is an entertaining and fascinating account of the artistic and cultural life in Mexico City during the Mexican “renaissance”.
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