This print was included in the important retrospective of Edward Weston's photographs for the Museum of Modern Art that was organized by Nancy Newhall in 1946. It was, at the time, the largest one-person photographic show that had ever been displayed at the Museum. In 1943, when Nancy Newhall was acting curator, she contacted Edward Weston about the exhibition. Beaumont Newhall, in Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston, notes the photographer answered:
Count on me for full cooperation. One request, or demand, I must make - give me plenty of time. I would like a year to prepare." Newhall continues: In 1944, Nancy went to Carmel and began working with him, making a preliminary selection of prints from the 3,000 neatly filed away in his cabinets. Laboriously, and not without difficulty because of occasional opposing tastes, they reduced the selection to 267. The exhibition - the largest of Edward's held during his life, opened on February 12, 1946, and was greeted with acclaim. At the close of the New York showing, it was circulated to nine art museums across the country. (Newhall, p. 42)
Weston's inspiration for this print came upon him during a visit to the home of Walter Arensberg, a philanthropist and seminal art collector. Weston remembers in his Daybooks on January 30, 1930:
I saw the most concentrated collection of fine art that has ever been my privilege. Four Brancusis, four Rousseaus, four Cizannes, -- Picasso, Matisse, Derain, Renoir, African sculpture, early American paintings - my surprise and admiration - well, I could cover a page with names. The work was carefully chosen too, -- not just for the name.
Brancusi's bird, and princess, -- these two I remember with most amazement. The princess was curiously like one of my peppers. I took my work. It was accepted with such thrilling understanding. "The most important photography being done." And Arensberg knows personally all the outstanding workers. He asked me to come again, bought two prints, my very first cypress root, and one of the last, a root flowing like lava through rocks. And - "I will acquire more from time to time."
Weston continues, "Yesterday I started working again. My patiently waiting bones. As so often happens, I was sidetracked from bones, -- seeing an old bedpan, I took one look and fell hard. I have an exquisite negative. It might easily be called "The Princess" or "The Bird!' It has a stately, aloof dignity - stood on end -- "form follows function" again." (p. 140.)
Shortly after his visit Weston sent Arensberg a print of this image. At the end of February Weston notes:
Also came a letter from Walter Arensberg to whom I sent my bedpan, or "form follows function," as I half facetiously named the print.
"I can't express how bowled over I was by the vision of "f.f.f." It is certainly one of your most profound, and shall hang in my study." (p. 144.)
Arensberg also owned Duchamp's Fountain, 1917 and one can't help but associate the bedpan with Duchamp's urinal; however, the manufactured object aside, the two do not have much in common. The Duchampian irony in Fountain is not present in Weston's work. Although the satire and whimsy of posing a bedpan is not lost on the photographer. In the past Weston used what was easily within his reach making use of the "ready-made," for example Excusado, a portrait of a toilet, executed in 1925. But Weston's finds beauty in this most humble of human conveniences. He takes the commonplace and earnestly turns it into art - whether it is a toilet, a washbasin, a fruit or the face of a lover. Using his skill and technique as an artist he made strong, personal images from his surroundings and captured the exquisite beauty he found in every day objects.
There are approximately fifteen prints of this image known to exist including those in the collections of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California; The International Center for Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; Special Collections, University of