What makes Ansel Adams so special?

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by JBrunner, Oct 29, 2006.

  1. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    "What makes Ansel Adams so special?"

    This question was posed to me by someone who self admittedly knows little about photography.

    Try as I could, I don't believe was able to come up with a satisfactory answer for this person. I explained that as far as the average Joe was concerned, Adams was the first photographer to successfully market his prints and derivatives to a mass market, was a prolific teacher, wrote many books, and had immense talent and technical skill, and that the reason he was the only photographer that many people could name, was a combination of all these things.

    I also told him that there were many other photographers whose work was on a par with Adams, who never succeeded in broad scale public recognition, but whos work commanded higher prices, and was more sought after. He said he still didn't get it. Did I miss something? Is my explanation thick, or is he? (my friend)
     
  2. jstraw

    jstraw Member

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    • He made beautiful photgraphs.
    • He devolped and codified a system for doing so with controlled, predictible methods and results.
    • He shared this information with the world.
    • He begat numerous photographic descendants that carried his work further.
    • He inspired the work of many brilliant photographers.
     
  3. davetravis

    davetravis Member

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    Your friend appears to have no appreciation for greatness.
    However, he may still be thick!:D
    IMO, AA set the standard by which all the rest of us who shoot nature aspire to be like.
    He was original.
    DT
     
  4. mark

    mark Member

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    It is a matter of taste. Some hate him, some think he is boring, and people like me find his images breathtaking. I don't think any one can explain it
     
  5. Mark_S

    Mark_S Subscriber

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    Certainly there are those who do not like his photographs. Although I am not one of them, I still do not think that his photographic body of work was his greatest contribution. What makes Ansel Adams so special is that he developed a system by which photographers could take control of their art, and be the masters of the images that they produced. For much of the mechanics of making a photograph, AA codified it, and developed a system whereby we can look at a scene, imagine the image that we want to present from that, and then execute it.
     
  6. Terence

    Terence Member

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    I had very little interest in photography as art until I saw his photos. They captivated me. They inspired me to travel out west and see these beautiful places. I developed a love of the western landscape, hiking and camping through it and just enjoying it. And, yes, photographing it. Ironically, although it is truly beautiful, Yosemite is ruined for me. It will never look as beautiful as St Ansel's photos of it.

    ansel did for the west with photography what Moran did for the west with painting. He brought it into the realm of knowledge for the folks in NYC, and Dayton and Topeka.

    That said, some of his most revered shots do nothing for me (Moonrise Over Hernandez being the prime example). And despite being an engineer and somewhat of a nerd, I have NO interest in becoming so consumed by the technical aspects that St Ansel popularized. Sure I meter along the lines of the Zone System, but it's more of a seat-of-the-pants approach. I've read the books, but absorbed it more through osmosis than by design.
     
  7. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    Several respondents have singled out the Zone System as a big reason, but that is only natural, as we are photographers here. The average person, even many hobbiest photographers (esp now), knows nothing of it. Is it recognition by Zoners, for their reasons, that trickles down to the general public? Or should we ponder that his immense technical contributions to photographic theory resonate only with photographers, and that the lay persons instant recall of his name, over all others, can be attributed to some other factor? Why should the mention of Adams bring instant recognition, when the mention of Weston will most often meet a blank look? (Speaking of the average person)
     
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  8. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Greatness is one thing but reverence is another.

    Adams "reverence" probably comes from the Zone System and his teaching which travels through photographers and enthusiasts down to the general public.

    Whenever anyone has a following and disciples, they tend to become more "famous" than someone who quietly goes about their business.

    Michael
     
  9. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    Oh Ansel Adams, he's not an actual guy, he's just a PS filter that some guys at MIT developped. They gave it a name, you know it's like ELIZA for the computer psychiatrist. There are a lot of interesting details about it here: http://www.apug.org/forums/showthread.php?t=30461

    Seriously speaking, I think his appeal is due to many things. For me, he's like the grandpa of photography that everyone had: he showed you how to load a reel, process your film, understand how to tweak the process, etc. I think he is responsible for a lot of amateur enthusiasm about photography, and we know how much amateur photo boomed in the post-war years.

    Regarding his status as an artist, I would say without any sarcasm that his pictures "feel good." They have a very optmistic feeling in them, they have a joy of life that is not happy-goes-lucky, but that have a kind of awareness that there is goodness in the world, or presence.

    Pictorially, his work was very aesthetics-driven, and whilst he partook in the reaction against 19thC pictorialism, his work is nevertheless very close to representational painting: it is about painstaking efforts to make a vivid impression on the viewer by the use of pictorial means. I think Berenice Abbott was right in calling him a "superpictorialist" but I don't think it should be deprecative, as she meant it.
     
  10. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    Ansel Adams was to photography what Albert Bierstadt was to painting.
     
  11. Loose Gravel

    Loose Gravel Member

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    AA was in the right place at the right time. He had time, had some money, married into an art gallery in Yosemite, had ambition, was a good teacher, and in his later years had good promotion and publicity. He didn't really become famous ("special"(?)) until after he quit making photographs. I hear he is pumping gas somewhere in Montana now. RIP
     
  12. jovo

    jovo Membership Council

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    There often seems to be an iconic figure in every discipline whose name becomes a household word and who represents the art form. Often, it's because their work is exceptional for its' innovation or for its' singular skill in execution. But, sometimes it's because, though they're really good at what they do, they're even better at getting attention for it.

    It might be fun to play a game of first associations. Who is the first you think of when asked to name a painter, a classical violinist, cellist, pianist or conductor? Who epitomizes iconic status as a jazz musician, band leader, vocalist etc.

    The point is that there is probably just one name that comes to mind first for whatever reason, and in 'art' photography, it seems to be AA. On the other hand, when one is significantly involved in an interest of any kind, such simple, one person icons are not likely to be regarded with such singularity.
     
  13. athanasius80

    athanasius80 Member

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    My first reaction is: style.
    To me, AA had an instantly recognizable style that most people could recognize after seeing a couple of his works. "Thats an Ansel Adams photograph." To draw a bad analogy, AA is a Steinway piano or a Dusenberg (sp?) car. Superb quality and a mass recognized name brand.
    Just my $0.02, oh and my favorite of his photographs is the Golden Gate shot before the bridge.
     
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  15. Bromo33333

    Bromo33333 Member

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    I may be speaking heresy, but I have never been a big fan of his work. What he did, though, was create some fantastic systems, and through the f64 group, produces some incredibly sharp 8x10's - those prints are technical marvels that really are amazing for the detail and sense of space. Posters and enlargements don't have the same impact - the print has to be seen to believed!

    A lot of folks absolutely love the subject matter, which is where I differ. I mentioned before that I was warped! Now you know why!! :D

    (Oh, and I think he was probably one of the most important photographers, ever)
     
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  16. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

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    But who cares about seeing one picture after another of the same heroic trees and heroic rocks in excruciating detail? Weston called it the "ain't nature grand" approach, and I agree--Adams' later work bores me to tears.

    What surprised me was to see some of his earlier work which was not locked into that style and which exhibited much more flexibility and human interest. That Ansel Adams I could learn to like, even if he was a dogmatic modernist.
     
  17. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    I regard Adams documentary work highly, and it is another thing the general public is also completely unaware of.

    But the question I pose isn't if you personally find his work interesting or not, but why he is the one instantly recognized and recalled photographer across the board by the public at large? Did he work hard at it, or was he just lucky? (or possibly unlucky depending on how you view fame)
     
  18. Bromo33333

    Bromo33333 Member

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    It is reproduced as posters a LOT, so it is likely that those photos are what people saw a lot. It is really accessable as well - as another poster said it is an "ain't nature grand" theme - which sells well as photos, and also as painting.

    He also has some excellent books - and obviously is liberal with the licensing which helps get his stuff out there.
     
  19. kjsphoto

    kjsphoto Subscriber

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    Where do you start?

    His love for his family, his humbleness, attention to details, the quality in his prints, the sensitivity of his eyes to tones, his mastery and love of the craft, his skill, his vision and the list could go on forever.

    There is much more to the man than his photogarphs.

    He was truly a genius...
     
  20. kjsphoto

    kjsphoto Subscriber

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    You don’t become a master printer by getting lucky. The man knew his craft inside and out. He was a highly trained individual who used his background as a musician to perfect his imagery. Lucky? Not even,

    Hard work and dedication? Absolutely

    If you mean lucky by his fortune and fame I still think he worked at it. I cant remember the person that really pushed his images and helped crate his wealth for him , but I still feel Adams worked hard for everything he had.
     
  21. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes, but what came first, the chicken or the egg? Are his prints popular as posters because he was AA or is he AA because the posters and other derivatives are so popular?
     
  22. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    In the context you describe, I would have to agree.
     
  23. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Had Adams not encountered Paul Strand when he did, I wonder if his work would have been as widely accepted as it was. So what we know factually is that Adams is credited with formulating a system that actually was the outgrowth of the methods and procedures of several very good photographers.

    This points out why I think that Adams is the icon that many accept him to be. He had the ability to promote himself and hence his work very well. Call it salesmanship or call it self promotion. The point is that without it his images would probably have remained relatively obscure.

    From my perspective, and considering the standpoint of composition and the representation of form, his work is not as great as many other very good photographers. Take away the aspect of nature and the great landscape, and how effective was he at seeing?

    I marveled at his work at one time. That time has passed for me.
     
  24. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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    Adams intersection with Strand is an interesting one, and helped to inspire (along with Lange) some of the best of his lesser known work, however, did Strand help "make" Ansel in the way that Stieglitz helped "make" Weston, despite his departure from pictorialism?
     
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  25. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    I think what makes Adams' work so special is its inherent timelessness. Viewing his photographs, I have the sense that they will be just as stunning in the future; there is no short-sighted trendiness or kitsch to date them. His work is a triumph of substance over fleeting style.

    Of course, Adams was probably the most technically adept photographer of his generation (or perhaps any generation!) so he knew very well how to get what he wanted. And he used those abilities to represent his subjects with front-to-back clarity and fidelity. He was a powerful voice of conservative representation during rather pictorialist times. And I think that it is for this reason that his work has such enduring timelessness.
     
  26. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    I really don't have the answer to your question. I think that in both cases beneficial influence was obtained. Stieglitz was certainly influential to Adams too.