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  Saturday  November 28  2009    09: 36 AM


Charis Wilson was the woman behind Edward Weston. And often the woman in front of his camera. I didn't know she was still alive. Another link to the past broken.

Charis Wilson, Model and Muse, Dies at 95

"Charis Wilson, who was lover, muse, model, amanuensis and wife of the photographer Edward Weston and the subject of many of his best-known nude portraits, died on Friday in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 95.

"Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Rachel Fern Harris.

"In January 1934 Ms. Wilson was an intellectually inclined, brazenly adventurous young woman of 19 when she met Weston, who was then in his late 40s and a friend of her brother, Leon, at a concert in Carmel, Calif. They were drawn to each other instantly, and she began posing for him shortly thereafter.

" “I knew I really didn’t look that good, and that Edward had glorified me,” Ms. Wilson said later, as recounted in “The Model Wife,” a 1999 study by Arthur Ollman of nine photographers and their images of their wives, “but it was a very pleasant thing to be glorified and I couldn’t wait to go back for more."

"By the following year they were living together; they married in 1939 and separated in 1945, divorcing the following year.

"During their 11 years together, Ms. Wilson wrote the grant application that earned Weston a Guggenheim Fellowship — he was the first photographer to receive one — and she drove the car during his explorations of the West. Mr. Ollman credited Ms. Wilson with actually writing the articles for photography magazines that were attributed to him.

"And of course she inspired his art, becoming the literal embodiment of her husband’s aesthetic — elegant, simple, fiercely intimate and glowingly sensual, with shadow and light beautifully in balance — as it applied to the female form. He photographed her clothed and unclothed, indoors and out, and many of his images of her — espied through a window, frolicking on sand dunes, floating in a pool, posed with her face hidden and her limbs complexly entwined — are among his most enduring."


Charis Wilson, a Link to Another Era

"Charis Wilson died last Friday. She was first the model, then the lover, and finally the wife of photographer Edward Weston, who was 28 years her senior.

"When I came of age in photography, it was just past the time when reading Weston's Daybooks (in the then-ubiquitous two-volume Aperture set, now long out of print) was almost a rite of passage among photographers of a certain ambition. I remember reasoning during my penurious student years that I didn't need to own my own copy because the two volumes would always be available in libraries; and now all I remember about them are his accounts of his love affairs. Chiefly, Charis. Edward was a man much swayed by his passions for his lovers.

"Wilson is often referred to as Weston's "muse," and the description for once isn't inapt. She was the subject of half of his nudes, many of them among his most famous pictures. And, according to some, she was the better writer and wrote the application for the Guggenheim—the first ever awarded to a photographer—that cemented Weston's national fame. She helped support them, helped him in the darkroom, even helped generate ideas for his pictures.

"Weston died more than fifty years ago, and even his most famous photographer son, Brett, has been gone for more than decade and a half. I hadn't actually realized Charis Wilson was still alive. Weston distinctly belongs to an earlier time, a different era. Charis was long-lived. She was ninety-five."