Photographer’s works being published posthumously
Oh, to be able to peer inside the head of a talented artist and see what that person was thinking during the creative process.
Sadly, the opportunity for people to personally pick the brain of photographer William Meriwether, as so many of his students did over the years he was a college teacher, ended with his death last June from bone cancer.
Meriwether died just three days before a retrospective show of his work opened in his hometown of Glenwood Springs.
Thankfully, those interested in the methods and philosophies that formed Meriwether’s work can gain a glimpse into his thinking in a posthumous reprint of a limited-edition book Meriwether self-published in 2005. It’s titled “The Museum Collection” and is part of the Vision of Photography Series being assembled by People’s Press, a small publishing house near Aspen.
Over a career spanning some 40 years, Meriwether specialized in austere black-and-white renditions of Western landscapes and scenes, and mastered the painstaking but rewarding platinum print-making process. He left behind some 20,000 landscape images.
He was inspired by photographers such as Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. But he developed independent views that allowed him to question the acclaimed Adams’ own biases about photography, something Meriwether does in his book.
Meriwether’s father was a trapper in the Flat Tops, and Meriwether came to like hiking and the outdoors at a young age. He earned a master’s degree in fine arts from Adams State College and taught there and at Colorado Mountain College and other colleges. He also spent decades exploring the West on foot and by Jeep in search of photos. He loved to train his lens on subjects such as the eroding volcanic-ash columns of southwest Colorado’s Wheeler Geological Area, the adobe churches of New Mexico, and the weathered barns, ancient vehicles, spare cemeteries and other near-ruins he encountered during his travels.
The 52-page book includes some favored photos of Meriwether’s and a few thoughts about how the images came to be captured on film. Some anecdotes cover standard photographic topics such as lighting and composition, not to mention the importance of always having a camera at the ready for when a magic moment arrives. Adding fun to the book are accounts such as one about the time Meriwether had the good foresight to leave his car engine running during a shoot, allowing for a quick escape from a chasing dog.
In a series of essays, Meriwether also expounds on subjects from the platinum printmaking process to photographic techniques, which can include clever practices such as viewing a photo upside-down to see how tones and shapes present themselves, apart from the subject being depicted.
Of particular interest are repeated comparisons to photography and music, as when he compares the use of detail-lacking “negative space” in images to the silent parts of a musical score. Presumably, such thoughts were influenced by his marriage to Bobbie Meriwether, who is a deaf concert pianist.
While Meriwether runs through some of the rules for quality photography, he also makes as much a point of emphasizing that they aren’t hard and fast.
“Photography is an infant medium and should hold off a few centuries before insisting on any inalienable dictates,” he wrote.
It’s the kind of gem of a line that is sprinkled liberally throughout his slim tome and reveals a keenly intelligent man whose way with words rivaled his talent behind the camera.