The Big Picture: Photographs and Archives of Aperture Cofounder Go to Scripps

Image: Edward Weston at Rhyolite, Nevada, 1948 by Dody Weston Thompson, Thompson Family Trust, c. 2012

Scripps College is delighted to announce the recent gift of 461 photographs by mid-century American photographer Dody Weston Thompson. A key participant in the West Coast photography movement, Weston Thompson was also a major chronicler of that era. The gift of photographs, along with Weston Thompson’s archives, provide an unparalleled look into the work of this significant artist as well as that of some of the most important photographers of the 20th century, including Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. As assistant to both of them, Weston Thompson had unique access into the work and thoughts of these art history-changing artists.

Weston Thompson’s six-decade career has garnered much praise in its own right. She was notably recognized with an invitation to join f/64, an exclusive San Francisco photographer’s club whose founding members included Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards and others. In the 1950s, Weston Thompson counted many famous photographers among her friends and collaborators, including Adams, Cunningham, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Minor White. In 1952, she was co-awarded—preceded only by Ansel Adams—the Alfred M. Bender award from the San Francisco Museum of Art for her black-and-white photographs of California. In line with the West Coast movement and f/64, her work reflects the transition away from impressionistic styles of the East Coast, favoring sharply focused, realistic photos of natural objects.

Throughout her artistic career Weston Thompson was well known for writing and lecturing on the history of photography, camera and darkroom techniques, and the work of her fellow artists. She cofounded the photography journal Aperture, then the only publication controlled by artists solely concerned with photography as an art. Throughout the years, Aperture has given voice to the field’s most acclaimed artists, including some of the most controversial, such as Diane Arbus and Jerry Uelsmann.

The collection displays Weston Thompson’s propensity to realize an underlying abstraction separate from the realistic portrayal of objects and people. She expresses the mysteries and complexities of life through composition and intricate layers of natural reality. She played with the dialogue between humans and nature, employing contrasting shapes, colors and textures and glorifying the beauty of things cast off.

The Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery is grateful for this extraordinary gift, presented to Scripps by the Thompson Family Trust and made possible in part by Michael and Jane Wilson.  It enriches the College’s art collection through its eloquent testimonial of the crucial developmental years of mid-twentieth century photography.