For Malibu photographer Robert Weingarten, the exhibit, “6:30 A.M.,” opening at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art Saturday, meant rising at the crack of dawn nearly every morning over the span of a year.
“I’m still not entirely out of the habit,” he said. “In my book, I credit my wife, Pam, for her patience.”
Speaking on the telephone last week, Weingarten had just returned from the opening of a similar exhibit at the Marlborough Gallery in New York, showing the same large-scale photographs of the Pacific Ocean, just fewer images.
“Michael Zakian curated it for the Weisman,” he said. “He chose all the images for the show.”
A book featuring 55 of the hundreds of images made was published by Hatjecantz in Germany and was just released here this week. Weston Naef, curator of photography at the Getty Museum, wrote the essay for the book.
“They have about 16 images in their collection,” Weingarten said.
It was Naef who got Weingarten started on the project that became “6:30 A.M.”
“I decided to do this the latter part of 2002 based on a challenge to me by my friend Weston Naef, who had seen work I’d done from all over the world. He said, ‘I believe a true artist can work close to home.'”
But the Malibu resident had no interest in making photographs of the ocean.
“I thought all beach shots were clichés,” he said. ” I didn’t want to do it.”
But then he started to study it and noticed the changeability every morning from his house on a bluff overlooking Santa Monica Bay.
“I was seeing the same thing but in a different light. Painters do that. Monet did it, painting the same subject, like the haystacks, at different times of day and year,” Weingarten said. “But it’s also at the same time of day. You see a vastly different image because of the changing position of the sun throughout the year. As I started to do it, I was surprised. The amount of difference was astounding. That was what kept me going.”
But maintaining the integrity of the project was not easy. To make sure all the images would be taken of exactly the same view, with 70 percent sky and 30 percent water separated by a thin strip of land, Weingarten had to put tape on the floor to mark where his tripod was placed.
“The tripod head has degrees, and I knew at what degree it was set. The viewfinder on my camera has a grid that made it easier to align specific points. And the film was all from the same lot. With the camera set at the same aperture, f-22, using the same lens, I had only to adjust the shutter speed.”
Weingarten explained why our eyes don’t see things exactly as they are, exactly as the camera sees them. “There’s a thing called chromatic adaptation. If we are looking at water, we know it’s water,” he said. “You create a visual constancy in your mind that applies to color. So if you’re looking at the ocean, you think it should be blue. Even if it’s totally red, reflecting light from the sun, you will still see some blue.”
Since the eye blinks at a 30th of a second, Weingarten knew he would have to have an exposure longer than 1/30 so it would accumulate light and motion the eye wouldn’t see. His Hasselblad produces square images on 2-1/4 inch transparencies.
“In that format you don’t create visual tension, therefore, in the image, the tension is based on the colors,” he said. “By using a long lens, it’s compressed so you don’t have a lot of depth. All of that is done so that the person looking at it is forced to really look at the color because there’s nothing else going on.”
The images are printed without digital manipulation to keep the fidelity of the transparency. They are printed on different stock, Somerset Velvet watercolor paper, using Epson printers and ultrachrome pigment, ink that’s the most archival.
“For the Weisman show we had to print sometimes four times to get a museum-quality print,” Weingarten said. “At that size, the paper is on rolls, so they don’t have the consistency of sheets.”
He took the same shot every morning when he was in town regardless of the light or weather, even during the June gloom. “When you go through the book, some are just blue, and it’s unclear what you are looking at,” Weingarten said. “I felt the discipline of the project was key. So even if I saw something at 6:20 and the light was wonderful, I still didn’t shoot it. That’s the integrity of the project.”
Robert Weingarten’s work is represented locally by Craig Krull at Bergamot Station and at the Weston Gallery in Carmel. More information and images are available on his Web site: weingartenphotography.co. The exhibition will be open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays May 14 to July 17 in the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine. A reception to meet the artist is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.