The land, about four miles south of downtown Carmel, lies a mile or so from Point Lobos. Weston, who didn't drive, would spend hour upon hour at the water's edge, composing frames of granite and sandstone, wind and surf, cypress and succulent, seaweed and sand, all the while wrestling with a heavy tripod and a wooden view camera, and loading 8-by-10 negatives one at a time.
"Art is based on order. The world is full of sloppy Bohemians and their work betrays them," he wrote in one of his journals. A few months later, he added, "I get a greater joy from finding things in nature, already composed, than I do from my finest personal arrangements."
While his sons forged their own careers and Charis Wilson moved on, Edward Weston dug in, surrounded by adopted cats, sometimes up to 40 of them. He shot at Point Lobos until 1948, when advancing Parkinson's disease cut short his career. He lived in the cabin until his death in 1958.
Photographer Minor White thought Weston's last Point Lobos photos "may parallel in content the last quartets of Beethoven."
Home on Wildcat Hill
When Kim Weston and his wife, Gina, welcomed me to Wildcat Hill 49 years later, the tiny darkroom was still largely as Edward had left it, the walls painted black, the hand-labeled chemical jugs, the developing trays lined up on a shelf, family photos leaning here and there. (There has been quite a lot more family to photograph in more recent years: Apart from Edward's two wives and four children, Brett had four wives and one child, and Cole had four wives and seven children. Kim and Gina have a teenage son, Zach.)
There were more photos in the Bodie House, which was built as a garage in 1938 and converted into a writing studio for Wilson. The cabin, updated, outfitted with bathroom, kitchenette and windows facing the forest, is set behind and above the Weston home and Kim Weston's studio.
The Westons rent it out for $150 nightly, most often to photographers who are taking one of their workshops. Nearby stands a sturdy picnic table and a patio full of abalone shells and old animal bones. To reach all this, you make an abrupt turn off the coast highway and creep up a curving, cliff-adjacent, unpaved driveway that concentrates a driver's mind wonderfully.
I liked the room but didn't spend a lot of time there. Wielding my little digital camera, I would go out and get sandy at Carmel River State Beach or soaked at Garrapata, looking for glimpses of old photos, prospecting for new ones. Then I would clean up and head into town.
The first stop was the Weston Gallery, founded in 1975 by Cole Weston's ex-wife Maggi, with encouragement from Adams. Along with several of Edward Weston's pictures printed by Cole Weston ($4,000 to $7,000), I saw Asian landscapes by Michael Kenna; South American landscapes by Jeffrey Becom; photo fantasies by Jerry Uelsmann; portraits by Yousuf Karsh; and — aha! — an 11-by-14-inch Brett Weston print of Garrapata Beach in 1954, all rocky geometry, misty shore and distant hills, for $12,000.
Next stop was Photography West, the Weston Gallery's rival since 1980, with its own print of Weston's Garrapata Beach shot, for $9,500, and a separate room named for Adams. Although Adams' mountain pictures have always commanded more attention, his archive is full of images made between Big Sur and Pebble Beach of rocky slopes, dense forest, breaking waves and foggy roads.
The gallery, still run by founder Carol Williams, also includes coastal scenes by Morley Baer, seashells and nudes by Imogen Cunningham and forest scenes in startling color by Christopher Burkett.
Three years ago, that would have been just the beginning of a Carmel photo gallery crawl. But three recent closures, including the Josephus Daniels Gallery downtown and the satellite Ansel Adams Gallery in the Highland Inn, have thinned the ranks.
As April began, the only other photography-only spaces here were the 6-year-old Robert Knight Gallery, which showed Robert Knight's color-drenched panoramic landscapes from around the world, and the nonprofit Center for Photographic Art, a descendant of now-defunct Friends of Photography, founded in 1967 by a group that included Brett Weston and Adams.
Photographs spring to life
Moving between the coast as photographed and the coast itself is like working two jigsaw puzzles at once. Even if you haven't encountered Edward Weston's exacting black-and-white images, you've probably seen some of Brett Weston's seascapes from Monterey Bay or a nude from his glass-walled Carmel Valley swimming pool, or dunes from Oceano. Or you've seen Cole Weston's shot of the wave-lashed Big Sur headlands or maybe his oddly becalming shot of the rolling hills of Palo Corona Ranch on a half-cloudy day.
A poster of that last image hung on my living-room wall for much of the 1990s. Driving north about two miles from the Weston property on my first morning in Carmel, I glanced to my right, then glanced again. There they were, the hills from the picture.
The light and sky weren't quite the same, of course — in 45 years of driving past the spot where that shot was taken, Kim Weston told me, he has never seen them quite the same. But most everything else matched, from the curving path to the black cows. After two days of driving past the spot on the way elsewhere, I gave up fighting the urge, found a place to park, hopped out and snapped my own lesser homage to that moment Cole Weston caught in 1962.