Edward Weston, Pepper No. 30, 1930, as reproduced in The Art of the Erotic

Who knew Edward Weston did erotica?

The photographer’s nudes appear abstract but his infamous photo of a pepper packs an unexpected erotic charge

Edward Weston's sex life informed his art. A number of Weston’s models also became his lovers, including his second wife, Charis Wilson, whom the US photographer first met when he was 48 and she was 20.

Weston's nude work is also well established; yet, at times his nudes can look remarkably detached and asexual. Conversely, many viewers detect something much more sexualised in one of his most famous works: his photograph of a single green pepper taken in 1930. Indeed, as our new book The Art of the Erotic argues, this black-and-white still life might actually pack in more erotic charge than Weston’s shots of his lovers.

“At times the pepper looks like the muscles of the back flexing, or a spine arching, as in Old Master paintings of odalisques and reclining nudes,” explains the book. “In other passages, cleaving forms recall buttocks, and incurvations of the pepper’s flesh create dark orifices in tension with the forms that seem to be rhythmically contracting and expanding. The gentle light from above and subtle reflective light throughout lend sensuality to the pepper, its surface glistening lubriciously in some places, velvety in others.


The Art of the Erotic
The Art of the Erotic

To be this close to the pepper while simultaneously seeing all of it in sharp focus is not possible with the naked eye, but only with the camera’s small aperture, which was open in this case for a six-minute exposure. Despite the mechanical genesis of this image, though, its proximity and detail create a human intimacy. Weston also photographed nudes, which, ironically, were not as erotic as some of his still-life photographs, such as this one. His inventive photographic vision compels the viewer to see the world anew each time, or, in his words, ‘to make the commonplace unusual’. He shows humans as abstract works of art and peppers as sensuously erotic.”

For more on the fertile juncture between fine art and sex, order a copy of The Art of the Erotic here.