Artist: Edward Weston (American, Highland Park, Illinois 1886–1958 Carmel, California)

Date: 1930

Medium: Gelatin silver print

Dimensions: 24.5 x 15.2 cm. (9 5/8 x 6 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

Accession Number: 1987.1100.134

Rights and Reproduction: © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Of this photograph Weston wrote in his Daybooks, "… seeing an old bedpan, I took one look, and fell hard. I have an exquisite negative. It might easily be called 'The Princess' or 'The Bird' [both sculptures by Constantin Brancusi]! It has a stately, aloof dignity-stood on end-'form follows function' again." Weston adopted the "form follows function" dictum, originally coined by the modern American architect Louis Sullivan to describe his aesthetic in skyscraper design, as his own credo in the mid-1920s and spent the remainder of his career extracting the essential structure of objects before his camera. Like other modernist photographers such as Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, his work proved that the formal character of the photograph could override the content, but, unlike them, he preferred to use recognizable, everyday objects from the natural and industrial world to assert his claim. It would be difficult to find a more homely object with which to inspire an aesthetic response than an old bedpan, but Weston managed to do just that in this photograph. It eschews the documentary role of the medium so completely that the subject of the photograph becomes not the object within the frame, but the beautiful simplicity and unmannered geometry of the picture.