Bruce Weber’s Collective Conscious

Art | Jan 2017 | BY Ted Loos

It would be hard to argue that any one person has shaped the contemporary aesthetic more than Bruce Weber, the prolific photographer and filmmaker. He has taken some of the most lasting images of people—faces and bodies that will never be forgotten—over the last 40 years. His mind’s eye, and his approach to pictures, is permanently etched into our memories.

Kate Moss in Vietnam, 1996.

In any glossy magazine in recent decades, it is likely that in more than one instance a sexy ad photographed by Weber was right next to a glamorous editorial spread also by his hand.

But dismissing him as just an avatar of fashion and style clearly is not fair. His films, particularly his excellent Let’s Get Lost (1988), about the jazz legend Chet Baker, are quite masterly, and the museum shows of his work—like the 2010 exhibition of Haitian portraits at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami—demonstrate his impressive range and depth.

Weber is now 70—hard to believe, given that he has been such an influential chronicler of the young—and he recently debuted a massive exhibition, “Far From Home,” over 300 images strong, which is on view at Dallas Contemporary until March 2017.

Lonnie Engle photographed for Versace in Buenos Aires, 1995.

“It’s funny about exhibitions: They’re really like getting married and having four kids right away for me,” says Weber. “I’m used to just being out in the world working and taking pictures, instead of sitting around and looking at pictures.”

The theme of the show is indeed being out in the world, with a loose travel theme, and divided into places that Weber has documented, including Tangier, Germany and Thailand. Occasionally there appears a face most viewers will recognize—Kate Moss, David Bowie—but more often than not, the audience is invited to find something beyond fame in the picture, and to get a sense of the place where it was taken. “Maybe this exhibition is a result of the fact that I didn’t want to be just a tourist when I traveled,” says Weber. “I really wanted to be part of it.”

Photography is in Weber’s blood. “Helmut Newton once said to me, ‘You know, as a photographer, you’re always kind of taking the same picture all your life,’” recalls Weber. “In a strange way, I think he’s right.”

As a child, Weber saw the power of the image—held both by the taker and the subject. “My dad was always photographing my mother,” he says. “She was very beautiful. They were like beautiful fashion pictures.” Weber starting taking his own pictures at 12, dressing up his mother and sister as models.

Having been behind the camera for nearly six decades, Weber is still far from blasé about exhibiting his work. “It’s a little nerve-wracking, because when you show your pictures up on the wall of the museum or in the magazine, you’re standing there naked in front of everybody,” he says. “You’re really showing your heart.”

Norway, 1998

Part of that core passion is displayed in the only section of “Far From Home” that isn’t geographically oriented: seven “Inspiration Photos,” some by Weber and three by other hands. Two of the images are of his beloved spread in Montauk, on the tip of Long Island’s East End. One depicts visionary Italian filmmakers Bernardo Bertolucci and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Two explorers are also represented in separate images, Sir Wilfred Thesiger and Mark Shand.

Weber’s own explorations are hardly slowing down. He is always working, and has consistently resisted photographing digitally, despite the near ubiquity of that technology. “I like that there’s still a softness in the picture and there’s a depth of field that’s really interesting,” says Weber about film, adding that he doesn’t approve of “this attitude where everything has to be in focus and everything has to be so perfect.”

Weber’s interest in texture, and his innate empathy, are two of the driving forces behind his work. And it is natural that these twin forces would lead him to the portraits on view in Dallas. “I kind of love it that people carry what’s in their life on their face,” says Weber. “So I would say that’s something that I like to photograph: to have their life show on their face.”

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