In the late 1930s, Richard C. Miller, an aspiring photographer and carbro printer, visited Edward Weston. He had long admired Weston’s work, and over the following years he bought what few prints he could afford.
But when the madness of World War II had gripped the world, Dick, looking for employment, attended a group sales pitch presented by North American Aviation and Lockheed for the purpose of hiring wartime employees. He was hired by the photography department at North American in Inglewood, where he met photographer Brett Weston, who had also taken a job there. Other photographers such as Peter Gowland were employed there too, but during the North American years Dick and Brett began to form what Dick later called “a great friendship; it lasted the rest of my life.”
The job gave Dick, who had a family to feed, a steady income derived from his photographic work. But Dick and Brett also found a way to pursue their own photographic interests on the side.
As Dick recalls, “In 1941 I met Brett at North American. We both had extra gas coupons (which were only for defense industry employees). We combined our coupons, and Brett said we should take a trip to the desert to take pictures.” They took these driving expeditions out to the California deserts and other locations with Dick’s wife Margaret (called “Dudsie”) and other friends, shooting pictures and having picnics.
Finally, Brett could no longer stand working at North American and went to Lockheed for a short time, then enlisted in the Army and was sent to New York City. Dick quit North American during the brief period when personnel engaged in wartime employment were temporarily allowed to look for other employment without the risk of being drafted. He was then hired by Dr. Bela Gaspar, who was engaged in the development of Gasparcolor, later destined to become Cibachrome. This project was considered vital to the war effort and kept Dick draft exempt. He and Brett stayed in contact in spite of the war.
“Brett was in the army in New York City, and it was a perfect job for him. He lucked out. He took the night shift, slept all night, and then did his own work during the day,” Dick remembers. Later the Army, in its wisdom, turned Brett into a mechanic at Fort Crowder.
In the years following the war the two men’s friendship deepened. They often made trips back and forth, visiting one another and sharing pictures and photographic expeditions. One such trip took place in November 1947, after Brett had bought his first photographic camping truck, installed folding beds on either side of the truck’s interior, and driven it from Carmel to Hollywoodland to show Dick. The next morning they went to what were then the beautiful and isolated the Oceano dunes to take pictures.
At various times during the Forties and Fifties, while visiting Brett in Carmel and Santa Monica, Dick shot portraits of Edward. Some of these he executed with a 5×7 one-shot camera. One of these, in which Edward leans against a plank wall, became the only known carbro print of Edward Weston. Dick’s one-shot image of Brett sitting on his porch in Santa Monica is also the only known carbro print of Brett Weston.
During these years, when Brett was building the adobe house at Garapata, Dick and Dudsie visited often with Brett, Cole, Neil, and Edward in Carmel and attended their bohemian parties. He also photographed Edward, using 4×5 Kodachrome film, after Parkinson’s disease had forced Edward into photographic retirement, and later took photographs of Brett, Dody, and Edward when Brett was working on Edward’s fiftieth anniversary portfolio. Dody Warren, who worked as Edward’s assistant at the time, later married Brett.
In a very real sense Dick and Brett were one another’s alter egos. Brett, it seems, had a limited propensity for human relations. His view of the world was abstract, and he was primarily interested in objects. When humans do appear in his images, such as in the nudes, they appear as black-and-white abstractions. It was at Dick’s suggestion that Brett painted his swimming pool black to better emphasize the human form.
Dick, on the other hand, was through and through a people person. He formed deep and long-lasting relations with friends and family. He largely photographed people, including the Westons but also celebrities, family, friends, and others. It was Dick’s warm heart that enabled Brett to allow himself to become so closely attached to a genuine friend.
In a sense they completed one another. Dick was envious of Brett’s life of freedom, artistic pursuits, and numerous romantic relationships. Brett, on the other hand, was envious of Dick’s settled family life and deep, long-lasting relationships.
Despite Brett’s insularity, he was hugely satisfied with his artistic life. On the other hand, Dick regretted his inability to freely pursue his artistic leaning, yet he was greatly satisfied with his personal relationships. It is ironic that in the end it was the people-loving Dick who became the hermit who never made a serious effort to sell his own work as art, and the human-shy Brett who became engaged with the world in the relentless marketing of his photographs.
Art represents an intention to communicate with others, and perhaps it was his very distance from people that compelled Brett to reach out with his photography. Dick seems to have felt no such compulsion, having perfectly satisfactory relationships to begin with.
Looking back, Dick seems mystified and saddened by Brett’s lack of photographic interest in people, including him. He says, “I took so many pictures of Brett. I never understood why Brett never took any pictures of me.” The simple answer is that Brett was not people-oriented, and Dick was.
There is just one 4×5 snapshot of Dick taken by Brett, with a black horse and a woman named Kathy in the Oceano dunes. After Dick had taken a similar picture of Brett with the horse and Kathy, Brett snapped one of Dick using Dick’s camera. In Dick’s archive, there are just two images of the two men together, one taken on a hillside with the panel truck in the background and another one taken by Dody Weston at Garapata Beach. In Dody’s shot, the image is of Dick. Brett just happens to be lying nearby on the sand. However, in the panel truck image they stand together as friends.
Dick was never a photographic acolyte of Brett’s, but maintained his own vision, style and career. In this they were never competitors but reveled in the deep joy they found working together on photographic expeditions—shooting the same territory, each with his own individual vision.
Through these years Dick and Brett maintained their long-standing friendship and Brett often came to Dick’s homes, successively in Hollywoodland, Sherman Oaks, Encino and finally Calabasas, to show his newest work to private gatherings. Dick organized private showings of Brett’s pictures at informal gatherings at his and Dudsie’s home. Although there are images of Cole and Brett looking at Dick’s carbro prints, there is no indication that Brett ever made any kind of promotional effort on Dick’s behalf.
Although Brett, who was color blind, remained a black-and-white photographer, he did take some color images, and Dick made prints from a few of them. In one letter Brett asked Dick for some of his color film back, since he intended to make color prints. Dick himself remained a committed color photographer who also happened to shoot black and white. His passion was the perfect color print and this, combined with his love of the human form, was what made him Brett’s alter ego.
This portfolio includes four facsimiles of Brett’s letters to Dick and Dudsie written from the early Forties to the late Seventies. Although Brett dropped out of school early and was not facile with language, it is indicative of the depth of their friendship that he always signed his letters with “love.”
This portfolio of “images of a friendship” is not really about the Westons but about Dick’s longtime relationship with the Weston family in general and with Brett in particular.
Just after his 95th birthday, Dick sits at his dining room table in his electronic wheelchair and stares at the image of Brett against the green background. As he comments about why he likes this particular shot of the young man with a direct look and high hopes, Dick’s eyes mist ever so slightly.
“He was my best friend,” he says. “I miss him.”
Michael Andrews, 2007