Known simply as Pepper Number 30, the photograph was taken in 1930 by Edward Weston. The first time I saw it outside of textbooks was in 1978, perched on a mantle, above a stone fireplace, along with five to six other Weston images. I was a college student at the time, who had somehow wandered into the cabin of the famous photographer near Carmel, California.
How I got inside was a long story, but I had arrived. Once there, I stood in the footsteps of America's most beloved photographer, a contemporary of Ansel Adams. I was inches away from Edward Weston's original prints. And mounted on white mat board, Pepper No. 30 rested against the stones of the mantle, looking beautiful, bathed in a southern light that drifted through a nearby window.
I had come to Carmel on spring break from college. I was a photography major, and had decided to check out the landscapes that Ansel Adams and Edward Weston immortalized in so many of their works. It was on that drive that I spotted a small wooden mailbox off the side of the highway. There was nothing special about the mailbox, except the name on the side.
It read N. Weston.
I stopped along the road and grabbed my Nikon F2 proceeded to walk up the twisting driveway that led to the door of a rustic cabin on top of Wildcat Hill.
That’s when a man’s voice rang out, “May I help you?”
I froze. Shocked by the sudden presence of a man in blue work overalls.
After a few uncomfortable moments, I explained that I was a photography major and had studied the works of Edward Weston recently. But before I could spit out another word, the man interrupted. "I don't like people visiting uninvited," he said. I managed to eek out how much I enjoyed Edward Weston's work, and explained how the mailbox got my attention... then he interrupted me again. "I'm Neil, and you can come in if you like to look around." I almost fainted right then and there. Neil was one of Edward's sons. Cole, Chandler and Brett were the others. As a college student things couldn't get much better. There I stood talking to the son of perhaps the most influential photographer in the 20th century.
There on the mantle inside the cabin was Edward Weston’s famous Pepper 30, a black and white image of a green bell pepper. Inches away, the famous Shell print from 1927.
I thought about taking a photograph inside the cabin for posterity, but instead, I resigned to the tranquility around me.
Edward had passed away in 1958, however, Neil was happy to interpret his father’s works. "Edward called these still life," he explained. The art critics embraced most of them. Pepper No. 30 for example was a simple green bell pepper, curled and lit with the precision of a master artist. 3D abstract art and engulfed with Minor White's Gray Scale technique that Weston, Adams and others of the period practiced with great vigor. The tones were pure; the whites, white and the blacks, black.
As a side note; I was essentially trespassing that day. And Neil had reminded me of it on several occasions. In fact, as I recall, Neil said, bus loads of students would stop by “constantly" and typically he would run them off. But Neil seemed to take a liking to my company, and he gave me the grand tour of the cabin.
Adjacent to the cabin was the darkroom, complete with the famous trapdoor I had heard about, which was used by the house cats, and it was still operational at the time. As Edward would develop his images in trays of chemicals, the cats would fuss so much that he built a small trapdoor at the entrance to the darkroom so the felines could come and go as they pleased. It made Edward happy and surely the cats, too.
Interestingly, just a month before I had watched a documentary about Weston, which mused about the cat's trapdoor in the darkroom. It was an exceptional experience to see Weston's original darkroom and cabin.
I left with vivid memories of the journey, and of course, with one black and white photograph I took of the mailbox that simply read...N. Weston. That photo still sits in my archives to remind me of how the early adopters of photography as an art form became so great.
(Note: The Weston residence on Wildcat Hill now offers regular seminars for photographers. If you are interested go to http://www.kimweston.com) Also, for collectors and the curious about Weston visit Artsy, where you can browse through or purchase his works.