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Archive 2012 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?
  
 
Camperjim
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p.2 #1 · p.2 #1 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


It is my understanding that AA made about 1000 prints of Moonlight and he did that over a period of decades. Many were soso and some were outstanding. I believe he worked on this trying to improve the constrast and exposure and also he milked the image for the best return and netted many millions of dollars from this one image.


Sep 05, 2012 at 10:59 PM
robertjm
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p.2 #2 · p.2 #2 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


More to it than simply a drive by photo op.

As I remember it, he was traveling with some people and they passed Hernandez by. About 30 minutes down the road, an epiphany struck and they headed back to Hernandez, setting up and capturing the photograph just as what light there was disappeared.

Had it been captured at first glance, it would not have been as spectacular. And had the wait been a few minutes longer, it would have been lost.

Something to ponder since that's probably his most famous (at least talked about) photograph of his career.

Robert

RustyBug wrote:
The story on Hernandez is that it was a "quick, stop the car" kinda thing...



Sep 05, 2012 at 11:27 PM
dmacmillan
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p.2 #3 · p.2 #3 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


Camperjim wrote:
I believe he worked on this trying to improve the constrast and exposure and also he milked the image for the best return and netted many millions of dollars from this one image.

AA didn't make millions from his images, others did.



Sep 06, 2012 at 12:17 AM
dmacmillan
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p.2 #4 · p.2 #4 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


Camperjim wrote:
I believe he worked on this trying to improve the constrast and exposure and also he milked the image for the best return and netted many millions of dollars from this one image.

AA didn't make millions from his images, others did.



Sep 06, 2012 at 12:18 AM
RustyBug
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p.2 #5 · p.2 #5 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


robertjm wrote:
More to it than simply a drive by photo op.

As I remember it, he was traveling with some people and they passed Hernandez by. About 30 minutes down the road, an epiphany struck and they headed back to Hernandez, setting up and capturing the photograph just as what light there was disappeared.

Had it been captured at first glance, it would not have been as spectacular. And had the wait been a few minutes longer, it would have been lost.

Something to ponder since that's probably his most famous (at least talked about) photograph of his career.

Robert



As his son (who was there) relayed the story to me (et al).

Whether it was a "backtrack" or a "quick, stop", ... it simply infers that he had limited time to capture his fleeting light that he envisioned for his image. Thousands of images have been made with a similar storyline ... albeit few that carry the epicly romanticized power of his story that people fell in love with.

Not to take away from AA ... but it isn't like he is the only photographer in the history of the craft to do the very same thing. The masterfulness of it comes in the extent to which he tediously worked the image till he got it the way he wanted it ... in its striking way that it is so different from what a "straight print" would have been.

There is much about AA that set him apart from others ... but there is also much about AA that is the same about him that exists in others ... both preceding him and following him. The vast majority fail to harness those attributes to fruition the way he did. We could all be served well to extend our passion with the fervor and studious tenacity to which he applied his.




Edited on Sep 06, 2012 at 05:12 AM · View previous versions



Sep 06, 2012 at 03:46 AM
robertjm
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p.2 #6 · p.2 #6 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


A neat thing is that when he wrote up his will he left all his glass plate negatives to the University of Arizona Photography school. The ONLY requirement was that they had to use them in photography classes so that actual students would be able to use them.

How nervous could you be, as a student, knowing you were using a negative done by Ansel Adams?!?!



Sep 06, 2012 at 03:57 AM
RustyBug
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p.2 #7 · p.2 #7 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


+1 @ Way cool & Way nervous.

The darkroom floors were probably made of foam rubber in case someone dropped one.
Seriously though, it probably was a challenge to remain composed when handling his plates ... especially for college age photographers.




Sep 06, 2012 at 03:59 AM
dmacmillan
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p.2 #8 · p.2 #8 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


It would be interesting to know how many negatives are glass plates. The only one I know for sure is "Half Dome", taken in the '20's. I think most of the images we know were shot on film. I do know in "The Negative" he mentions Super XX as one of his favorite films because of its thick emulsion.

From what I read of photo history, glass plates were falling out of favor by the mid teens. I have both glass plates and film negatives from my family, with many film negatives from the 1910's. The film negatives scare me, since they have a nitrate base.



Sep 06, 2012 at 04:34 AM
AuntiPode
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p.2 #9 · p.2 #9 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


Don't nitrocellulose based negatives eventually decompose? I trust you've scanned or otherwise copied all you want to preserve.


Sep 06, 2012 at 07:42 PM
dmacmillan
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p.2 #10 · p.2 #10 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


AuntiPode wrote:
Don't nitrocellulose based negatives eventually decompose? I trust you've scanned or otherwise copied all you want to preserve.

Yes. I had to make custom masks for my scanner to scan in the negatives. I have some panoramic negatives that are pretty neat, they are ~6x18cm.

Nitrate has a nasty habit of self igniting. A huge number of films at the Eastman Museum were lost in a fire caused by self ignition. I need to address that as well. The negs are in archival sleeves in archival boxes.

I'd love to work in film (movie) restoration. Every day we lose film to decomposition.



Sep 06, 2012 at 10:04 PM
 

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David Baldwin
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p.2 #11 · p.2 #11 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


Without in any way attempting to take any credit any from AA it is worth pointing out that photography is a very wide church indeed. It seems to me fine to want to understand what AA did, but far from fine to believe that what he did technically should in any way limit our approach to photography today. Admire his wonderful work, but don't turn it into some sort of sacred text to be bound by.

For example, here is a link to some work by an even better photographer artistically IMHO, work that technically just wouldn't be good enough if AAs standards were all that mattered:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2199423/Rare-Cartier-Bresson-photographs-set-hammer.html

Be inspired by AA, and the many other wonderful photographers we have known, not bound by what they did/didn't do. Let each new generation of photographers reinvent their world using the technical skills they inherit and create. AA make wonderful images, he did not set out to create some sort of photographic ten commandments.



Sep 07, 2012 at 06:46 AM
AuntiPode
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p.2 #12 · p.2 #12 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


You're singin' to the choir, David. Citing AA an example in no way covers the gamut. That wasn't the point. Some folks imagine AA was a purist, whatever they imagine a purist to be. The point was, he wasn't a purist in the mold most folks seem to imagine. HCB didn't make his own prints. He had a very different take on photography. Jerry Uelsmann is another favorite of mine who comes to mind. Again, a very different take on photography. There are so many wonderful ways to skin the photography cat!


Sep 07, 2012 at 08:22 AM
dmacmillan
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p.2 #13 · p.2 #13 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


David Baldwin wrote:
Admire his wonderful work, but don't turn it into some sort of sacred text to be bound by.

For example, here is a link to some work by an even better photographer artistically IMHO, work that technically just wouldn't be good enough if AAs standards were all that mattered: [Link to HCB]


I couldn't agree more, and as Karen will attest, I'm not thrilled when he is considered the end all and be all.

Sometimes I think to use him as a yardstick is to use him as a crutch by those who miss the point. They see him as technical and they mistake technical proficiency with talent. To me, AA is a niche photographer. Look at his portraits. Most are horrible. I can enjoy his landscapes, but I can also enjoy the work of people like Jacques Henri Lartigue and Diane Arbus. Their work does not lend itself as well to reducing to a formula.



Sep 07, 2012 at 01:42 PM
RustyBug
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p.2 #14 · p.2 #14 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


David ... you said succinctly what I labor to say
Karen ... same goes @ the "purist" myth
Doug ... same goes @ formula

I was the absolute most ardent believer in the "purist" myth at the shine of AA, chasing to emulate him with chrome ... till I learned how much "he cheated". Then I lost respect for his work (youthful foolishness). Then I studied his methods and regained my respect for him. Then I saw his works (actual) in person and studied them extensively ... until I realized he was "human" after all ... as well as being able to discern a philosophy in his approach. I proceeded to share this with my daughter (painter, not photographer) ... and she then "got it" too. I had finally "liberated" myself from being chained to the myth of the legend.

Then I met his son and realized something else about AA.

The thing I take away now @ AA is that he ... like MANY excellent photographers is that he worked to produce an image that conveyed the message that he desired to convey ... no matter what it took to produce that conveyance.

He was methodical and studious in developing HIS methods, using that which was available to him. As such ... I should develop MY methods that are available to ME to produce images that convey MY message that I desire to communicate with MY viewers ... be that an audience of one for myself ... or for the entire world to see.

Props to AA ... but don't let the myth restrict, retard or otherwise diminish that which exists within you. It was in AA, and he brought HIS out. Our visions are within us ... and we should diligently aspire to bring them out with ever increasing refinement to better convey our message. To me, that is what AA actually did ... through perpetual refinement of his methods. That is my "take away" from the legacy of AA.

How's that go, what's the saying @ first we learn to emulate, then we learn to create, then we create



Sep 07, 2012 at 02:17 PM
ben egbert
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p.2 #15 · p.2 #15 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


I never understood the big deal about Bresson. Being mostly a technical guy myself who does not really get the art part, I do have some attachment to what we think AA did. As I said, that is probably idealized and AA is s symbol for that idea. Demystify AA and the ideal remains. At least for me.

I consider photography to be a recording media and me the technician and nature the artist. My job is to find the art that has been prepared for me and record it faithfully.

If I wanted to add stuff that was not there, I would paint.

Now I have no problem with maximizing the impact with the raw material at hand. I also have no problem with altered reality photography. Altered reality is just another art form and is as valid as painting or sculpture. It is just not the one I choose to do.

Before anyone tells me Bresson did not do altered reality, my problem is his choice of what to shoot. They say nothing to me. Some of it reminds me of family picnics or other childhood memories from the 40's that I would just as soon forget.







Sep 07, 2012 at 02:56 PM
RustyBug
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p.2 #16 · p.2 #16 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


One can "record it faithfully" to the extent that "proper exposure" and the DR of the medium can allow for. But in nature photography (in particular), it exceeds the capabilities of the medium often times.

Aside from that "technical" issue ... even if AA recorded it faithfully, he did NOT develop and present it faithfully. But even before that ... the intent of the Zone system was to "place" your values at capture relative to where you wanted them to wind up (in conjunction with all processes), rather than where they might "naturally" occur if simply recorded faithfully.

While I absolutely respect and admire much of AA ... the notion @ "record it faithfully" is the antithesis of what AA actually did ... or aspired to do. He aspired to convey a "feeling" or "presence" (et al) about the place or person. When you consider that his "straight print" was what he used to do his "markups" on ... "faithful" is totally out of the equation @ the final product .. plausible or believable, "Yes", but faithful, "No way, Jose."

So, if your goals are truly to be reflective of record (and assuming present) it faithfully (good stuff) ... I don't know that AA is the best person to emulate or adopt his practices into your methods. Using his work as inspiration to foster your goals makes for a great muse. But if you are striving for faithful and using AA's work as a benchmark ... you're chasing a ghost.

"Been there, done that" ... burned the T-Shirt.



Sep 07, 2012 at 03:14 PM
ben egbert
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p.2 #17 · p.2 #17 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


I guess I mean that you don't add stuff that was not there, and I don't mean light by that. AA was working the light, he did not put mountains in that were not there. At least I don't think so.

He did not purposely distort geometry, or alter colors or use false colors or make the image look grungy or degrade it with vignette or out of focus. I don't know how good they were technically, but as printed they set a standard. When I look at black and white, I mostly see the sharpness and contrast and composition and want to go see the real deal in color.

As far as choices about what to photograph, he picked some pretty great places, which is probably part of his claim to fame since he was one of the first to get his stuff to a large audience. As far as composition, I feel incompetent to comment, but in general the only thing I did not care for was 4x5 aspect and some of his verticals would look better to me in landscape.

As far as portraiture, The O'keefe is one of my favorites. Better than anything I have ever seen by Bresson.



Sep 07, 2012 at 03:27 PM
RustyBug
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p.2 #18 · p.2 #18 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


ben egbert wrote:
want to go see the real deal.


Yup, that's the point. That's the "message he wanted to convey to his viewers."


Sometimes we make images that are surreal to what we see in person ... Antelope Canyon colors for instance. They are VERY REAL as the color of the light graduates and separates, but in person, you just don't see them (limitations of adaptive sight) the same as they can be captured and presented. If you present AC "straight" ... it doesn't have as much conveyance that "you gotta come experience this, it is a photographic phenomenon" ...

Conversely, we make images that are sub-real to what we can experience in person. We do the best we can to maximize the conveyance to our audience for the same message of "you gotta come see this"

In both cases ... neither are "faithful" to what one will "see" when they get there ... but they are "faithful" in that they are not a "fabrication" of something that doesn't exist. To that point, I get "faithful" ... and I likewise subscribe to that being an aspect of faithful.

But, in that regard ... I don't see anything special at all regarding AA. He and millions of others capture what the lens saw without adding fabrications (i.e. double exposure, etc.) Having the tenacity, resolve and patience (also time & money) to reach those places and watch & wait for the beauty and power of God's handi-work ... is a blessing that few (likely none) of us will ever be able to fulfill in the magnitude that AA's life allowed for. But, in that regard, AA's life was his. Yours, mine &ours will vary. What made AA special ... was what he did with it post-capture ... combined with the foresight of his vision to make a capture that would best facilitate his post-capture methods.

AA cherished that which he shot. I do as well, and assume others to do the same ... be that Suzy or HSB. To me, the photographic medium is no different than a painting ... it is a two dimensional visual medium for communication. A scientist delivers a speech (message / communication) with exacting detail allowing for little interpretation by the audience ... while a poet "waxes poetically" with vague and nebulous words that allow for a grandeur of interpretive imagination ... or with words that paint explicit imagery and emotional stimulation.

How each of us chooses to use our visual medium for communicating our message, can range from the technical to the interpretive to the emotive. AA was a technician to be sure, but he used that technical talent and expertise to foster the conveyance of his message, in his own interpretive way. Others may be even more technical, more interpretive or more emotive.

It was likely, his "blend" of the technical and interpretive that captured the hearts and minds of so many. As to "faithful" ... I'd suggest that AA aspired to faithfully convey the feeling / experience / emotion of being where he had been ... without being bound by a faithfully accurate presentation of the same.




Sep 07, 2012 at 04:08 PM
ben egbert
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p.2 #19 · p.2 #19 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


Glad I posted this, even if it makes me out a bit of a redneck, I probably am to some degree. But it helps me get this idea about craft and authentic better understood.



Sep 07, 2012 at 04:54 PM
robertjm
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p.2 #20 · p.2 #20 · What did Ansel Adams actually do?


There was a really great biography done on Adams. It was either shortly before his death, or just after. I don't remember which.

One of the things that was mentioned was that specific equipment wasn't necessarily the end all of everything. In fact, he had a Kodak Instamatic that he loved to pull out!! He found it light and simple to use.

I can only imagine he would have been absolutely astounded with today's cell phones, and 8+ mpx cameras on them.



Sep 07, 2012 at 05:12 PM
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