Did Ansel Adams use multiple negatives:

Discussion in 'Enlarging' started by Heather J, Jun 15, 2009.

  1. Heather J

    Heather J Member

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    Hello All,

    I am al little new to enlarging and to this website. I was wondering if Ansel Adams used more than one negative for one picture. I understand that used multiple burning and dodging techniques. Thanks so much - Heather
     
  2. voceumana

    voceumana Member

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    If you mean a montage, or combining multiple negatives onto one print, I don't think he used this approach at all. He does not describe any such technique in any of the books of his I have read. It seems the anthithesis of his overall approach.

    If instead, did he make several exposures of the same scene, I am sure he did. For Moonrise, Hernandez, he said that he flipped the film holder to make a second exposure, but just before he make another exposure, the lighting changed.

    Charlie Strack
     
  3. PhotoJim

    PhotoJim Member

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    I'm not aware that he ever used more than one negative for a picture.

    He often shot an image multiple times so that he would have backup negatives or could process the identical negatives differently if he didn't like the results, but he only printed from the single best negative.
     
  4. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    He probably frowned on the practice as not being 'straight' photography.
     
  5. Venchka

    Venchka Member

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    He absolutely made different prints from the same negative. I have seen them. In the same gallery.
     
  6. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    I think she is referring to adding clouds to a flat sky or adding a human eye to the shadow of an egg. That kind of thing.
     
  7. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    Adams frowning at something for not being "straight photography"? The master of tricks???
     
  8. Maris

    Maris Member

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    Even people who actually make photographs as opposed to doing just camera work (camera play?) often forget what Ansel Adams was really photographing. Sure, Ansel made film exposures of mountains and lakes and all the other wonderful things but these are not what we see on the gallery wall. Apart from the Polaroid pictures we never see camera-original material. It's invariably photographs OF photographs; and many other things besides.

    When we photograph a film negative using gelatin silver emulsion coated on paper we end up with a positive picture on paper. A negative of a negative is a positive! This is a process a lot of people call "printing" but it is actually an act of photography as technically pure and direct as the original camera exposure.

    Ansel Adams photographed a lot of film negatives using paper backed emulsion and he also photographed burning cards, dodging wands, his hands, and any other darn thing he cared to push into the enlarger beam. Remember, the original film negative is only an element of subject matter for everything that happens next.

    I was reminded of this when looking at an Ansel Adam's photograph in the chilly vaults of the Australia National Gallery in Canberra. The photograph was from his Museum Series and the title was "Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska, 1947". Mount McKinley seems to float, huge, white, and majestic, under a black sky in the top part of the picture. The bottom of the picture is a gleaming near-white Wonder Lake. The scene as depicted is dramatic but utterly impossible!

    A white lake cannot reflect a black sky. The reflection is always darker than the thing reflected. So what is going on? Why is the lake white? Then the penny dropped. The thing in front of me was a gelatin silver photograph that originally consisted of paper coated with a negative acting emulsion. The lake was white because that was the part of the picture where Ansel Adams' shadow fell during a portion of the exposure he made in his Yosemite darkroom all those years ago. Not only did I have a photograph of a Mount McKinley negative but also a photograph of Ansel Adams, the man himself, on the same piece of paper.

    The museum curator had left me alone with the photograph and did not see this moment of insight. I sensed Ansel's presence. My blood ran a bit cold to be so near his ghost. But it was exhilarating too.

    Ansel Adams did not combine negatives to make his photographs but there were many ingredients not the least of which was himself, there, bodily, in person.
     
  9. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Well said. Thank you,
    Steve
     
  10. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    You're thinking of the photographer Jerry Uelsmann. He has 8 enlargers in his darkroom and will often print 3-4 images on a single piece of paper to make a final photograph. He uses extensive dodging and burning, masking, and multiple exposures. Here is a photograph by Ted Orland that shows Adams and Uelsmann together, with Imogene Cunningham.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 16, 2009
  11. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

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    I've talked a few times with the curator of Adams' negative collection and to owner of one of the main galleries that handles his work. The subject has never come up. I know that he sometimes shot two negatives of a scene, but, as far as I know, he just printed the best one. Conversations about his prints have always focused on "the" negative, not on multiple negatives for similar shots. It is quite interesting, however, to notice the differences in different prints that were made from the same negative. They often look like they could be different shots, even when you can guarantee that they were made from the same negative.
     
  12. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I am sure he messed around with such things a few times for fun and experimentation, but to my knowledge none of his published art pix were made using multiple negatives. That would really not have been his "thing" conceptually. There is always the possibility that he did it for some of his commercial pix.
     
  13. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    I have never found a photograph, a reference in one of his books, or even a rumor that he ever used multiple negatives for a print. It sound contrary to the f/64 philosophy.

    Yes, he could have used multiple negatives for a print, but if he had he sure did not leave a hint or a trail of it.

    Steve
     
  14. Scruff McGruff

    Scruff McGruff Member

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    I believe I heard/saw him say in a BBC interview that he would sometimes make two identical negatives in case one was damaged somehow, but AFAIK (and I admit I am no biographer) he did not bracket exposure or do several compositions of the same scene.

    [Edit: Oops, PhotoJim already said the same thing. My apologies!]
     
  15. Rick Rosen

    Rick Rosen Member

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    I was fortunate to know Ansel personally as well as a number of his assistants. My understanding is that while Ansel did expose two negatives of a scene, the second negative remained undeveloped as a backup. Once Ansel had applied what be believed to be the best development time (N, N+, N-, etc.) to the negative and printed it he was able to evaluate it. If he felt that the final print would benefit from a different development he would take that backup negative and apply that technique. He always talked about not bracketing his exposures. He did frequently test different techniques. One, for example, was his experimentation with selenium toning the negative that proved to be a valuable tool. Those backup negatives were often used in those experiments.

    While he was a master in the darkroom I don't recall any discussion at all about using paper negatives, multiple negatives, etc. His "Moonrise Hernandez" negative (8x10) is a negative with an extreme contrast range, especially the underexposed foreground in shadow. Ansel did later use Chromium Intensifier to build up some silver density in that foreground.

    As for making multiple prints from the same negatives. That is true but the different prints with different looks were created over his lifetime, using the papers that were available at the time. Also, his printing did get more dramatic in contrast and amount of selenium toning in his later years.

    Hope that helps to clarify.

    Rick
     
  16. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    So, in a word, "no". Ansel did not use multiple negative to produce montage prints.

    Steve
     
  17. ROL

    ROL Member

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    I have only now become aware of this post, and have been trying for awhile now to understand this particular poster's response (which by the way, comprises a great deal of the thread). Normally, I wouldn't challenge other peoples opinions, especially on the net, but it is incomprehensible to me how the conclusion was come upon that Wonder Lake was manipulated to reflect an unreal atmospheric condition. Not that I in any way think there is anything wrong with the artist interpreting a negative as he wishes - Adams in this case and the Expressive Print.

    This, from Adams' Biography: "At about one-thirty A.M. the next morning, as the sun rose, the clouds lifted and the mountain glowed an incredible shade of pink. Laid out in front of Mount McKinley, Wonder Lake was pearlescent against the dark embracing arms of the shoreline."

    I don't presume to know how the artist created the work, and it is well known that Adams interpreted the negative quite differently throughout different stages of his life according to his artistic sensibility, but I can say that if you've never seen the silver sheen of the wind-whipped surface of a wilderness lake, I feel sorry for you.
     
  18. S.F. Sorrow

    S.F. Sorrow Member

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    Because he burned in the sky while he was printing the negative, no? Just search google images for that print and you will find one in which the sky is not black.

    As for him using multiple negatives, I've heard he did. Mind you this person was a part time photo teacher at a Community College and was in that position due to her amazing skills and immense depth of photographic knowledge. She was dead convinced that he added the moon after the shot was taken to many/all of his landscapes. She was all around a terrible teacher.
     
  19. SchwinnParamount

    SchwinnParamount Subscriber

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    As I understand your post, you ( like me ) find it difficult if not impossible to believe that Adams would fake a moon in any (let alone all) of his pictures. You are discrediting the teacher who espoused this view? if she did teach this view this the she deserves to be discredited.

    Adams would have written about a multiple-negative technique if he had done that even once, let alone frequently. To do otherwise would have been dishonest. I don't believe he was that sort of man.
     
  20. PhotoJim

    PhotoJim Member

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    That's a good point. Adams was very proud of his technique. If he found an interesting way to do something, he'd assuredly have written about it.