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View Full Version : Discussing a Ansel Adams photograph (some photographic "comfort food")



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Jim Chinn
08-11-2006, 11:10 PM
Ok. With the recent events reminding us of the troubled times we live in I thought I would post some "comfort food" for your consideration and discussion. Someone had to post him eventually. Just as well be me.

What can you say about Ansel? If I would hazard a guess, probably 75% of the photographers I have ever met or read about in various mags over the years credit Ansel as their inspriation to become serious photographers. I know when I saw his work in person over 20 years ago I went out and bought a used 4x5 about a week later.

This is one of my favorite Adams images. Mt. Williamson. The composition is great, the geometry of the boulders, the mountains, the shafts of light along with the clouds, the depth of field and all that fantasitic simple desolation.

While his images are icons to many, I wonder though, does Adams hold any relevance to young photographers today?

tim atherton
08-11-2006, 11:13 PM
It certainly makes you realise how bound photography is by the artificiality of perpectivism!

(question - how do we break out of that?)

tim atherton
08-11-2006, 11:17 PM
btw - I like Lee Friedlanders take on it

http://www.moma.org/images/collection/FullSizes/368_2005_CCCR.jpg

David H. Bebbington
08-11-2006, 11:37 PM
Ansel Adams is of course a solid gold legend. I have often wondered if it would be more accurate to describe him as the world's greatest advertising photographer, "selling" conservation and the National Parks idea. I think AA's style is so pervasive that any contemporary landscape worker must make every effort possible to do something different. Apparently Edward Weston referred to AA's work as the "Ain't nature grand!" style. No denying AAs' craftsmanship and colossal reputation though - I have an AA calendar on my wall and regularly give them as presents to friends, and I have AA's three books "The Camera," "The Negative" and "The Print" on my shelf. What more can you say?

Alex Hawley
08-12-2006, 12:07 AM
Ahhh, one that I have seen first-hand.

My feelings on this one is that it is as near perfection as a landscape photograph gets. Everything about it is just right. The geometry, the lighting, but especially the lighting. How many of us would try a back-lit shot like this and pull it off so well? It goes against practical convention and is tricky to do, never mind do so well.

I'm like David, I have the Adams Triad on my shelf and still refer to them regularly.

As far as relevancy to the young generation, not too many get out into the wild and appreciate the beauty of our land, in my observations. I have seen that its not fashionable (hence "cool") while Ansel bashing is cool. Not all do this. There are some young APUG members that appreciate Adams and his work. My own kids get perterbed at me because I like to get off the Interstate and see what's on the regular roads. I keep telling them they have no eyes.

Adams fully appreciated what he was photographing.

tim atherton
08-12-2006, 12:35 AM
As far as relevancy to the young generation, not too many get out into the wild and appreciate the beauty of our land, in my observations. I have seen that its not fashionable (hence "cool") while Ansel bashing is cool. Not all do this. There are some young APUG members that appreciate Adams and his work.

Though there are also some who do get out into the wild and who also reject Adam's aesthetic

Tom Stanworth
08-12-2006, 01:35 AM
I am a young(ish) photographer, realist and nature lover. I do think his images are relevant as what he photographed was actually there,albeit interpreted. Whilst I understand that some might not connect with his vision and find it 'nourishing', I cannot understand how anyone would 'reject it' as it represents a reality if only a transient one. There is for me an inherent sadness in many of his images as we all know that much of what he photographed has changed or at least its context has, due to encroachment.

Whilst Ansel was undoubtedly clever he was not trying to be 'clever'. There is nothing smarmy or pretentious about what he did as to do so would go against his objectives. He was an honest grafter and those who bash him IMO fail to understand what he was actually trying to do, whether they 'like it' or not.

I have huge admiration and respect for what he did and why he did it. This and my own love of the outdoors gives me a rush when I see (some of) his images. It need have nothing to do with photography but emotions more primeval than that.

Donald Miller
08-12-2006, 02:06 AM
"".

John Bragg
08-12-2006, 02:34 AM
This is such a near perfect landscape that the depth of field and the lighting would make the digital imagers of this world wonder just how it was manipulated in photoshop ? And it was all done in a wet darkroom !!!!! AWESOME !!

bdial
08-12-2006, 08:28 AM
A bit off-topic but still AA related;
A few years ago, I had an AA calendar on the wall of my cube at work, one of my colleagues stopped by, looked at the picture for a few moments, then said, "nice picture, too bad it's not in color".
As for the picture at the top of the thread, color would ruin it, in my opinion.

As for PS, depth of field is one "manipulation", if you want to call it that, that pretty much cannot be done in photoshop, it's got to happen in the camera. Though the short lenses that most digi's use lend themselves to lots of (apparent) depth of field.

Cheers

df cardwell
08-12-2006, 08:32 AM
There are a couple things about Ansel that have to be understood.

First, he was an artist.

Second, he lived and worked in his age, not ours.

Any half-witted attempt to deconstruct his work is futile, because his work is beyond the ability of most deconstructionists. There is no point to read the code of the image, it was not codified. It was not about an idea. it was all feeling.

Ansel was - if we can place him in any artistic category, he was a very late Romantic. His method involved the translation of the FEELING he had when he saw a scene into a negative in order to make a print that would elicit the same response from a viewer. That is why he photographed, and it was the essence of the Zone System. He called it Visualisation, in other words, making sensible the feelings he had. It has more to do with Stanislavski than BTZS.

Adams was not a Naturalist, nor a Realist. Not a Modernist. If you don't recognize that, you miss Adams completely. His work, however, is so convincing ( and we are so tainted by Post-Modernism ) that we never consider that he didn't make representational images.


So, Mt. Williamson is NOT a realistic, natural image of the scene. It is a grand departure from what was real, and expression of how he felt standing there. It is NOT a picture of Mt. Williamson, it is a picture of the inside of Adam's head.

The ardent conservationist that was Adams saw the wilderness in relation to it's potential spiritual value to humanity. He was a social guy, and saw mankind fulfilled by the natural world.

The bitterness his apparent financial success engenders among artists, and art photographers, is galling to me. He worked hard his entire life, provided for his family, and left a small estate. He never drew a steady paycheck for sitting at a desk and pretending to work. He paid his own health care. He never got the huge prices for his work that galleries demanded toward the end of his life.

So, what do we see when we look at Adams' pictures ? Try looking past the legend, the lore, and assumptions ( of our making ) and look at the picture. Drop the idea that Photography is realistic. Look at each picture as a self portrait, not a snapshot of some old mountain.

If all we look at is his composition and depth of field, we aren't seeing.

df cardwell
08-12-2006, 08:33 AM
...Apparently Edward Weston referred to AA's work as the "Ain't nature grand!" style. ....


Apparently not. Weston was referring to others.

Claire Senft
08-12-2006, 08:47 AM
I am unsure what Tim meant as perspectivism.. If he is asking how to remove perspective from a negative it aint gonna happen. Any camera placement for a camera lens & film plane is going to give you a certain perspective,

tim atherton
08-12-2006, 08:54 AM
I am unsure what Tim meant as perspectivism.. If he is asking how to remove perspective from a negative it aint gonna happen. Any camera placement for a camera lens & film plane is going to give you a certain perspective,

Hockney has taken one approach to this - quite imaginatively and successfully

For me - as nice a picture as this is, the perspective is quite brutal - like one of the Canalettos of St Mark's in Venice. It's one of the constitutional limitations of photography that while most other forms of art were able to move away from the perspectives that had dominated it for a good few centuries, photography is generally much more limited in doing so. Perspective is, after all, essentially theory about a certain way of seeing.

Tom Stanworth
08-12-2006, 08:55 AM
Ansels work if not realistic was a representation of how he felt as one poster put it....that sounds as good as reality to me - his 'inner space' or not, his images sre a product of his reponse to a real scene and although not literal are hardly a radical departure.

Donald, your quote states that art is a departure from reality. I have always felt that whilst some photography is art, not all photography therefore is. I am not sure Ansel was an artist as such, but this definition in my head makes not a jot of difference to my admiration for his achievements.

Tom Stanworth
08-12-2006, 09:00 AM
DF Cardwell,

I understand what you are saying and agree to an extent but would not go as far as you.

You say, "So, Mt. Williamson is NOT a realistic, natural image of the scene. It is a grand departure from what was real, and expression of how he felt standing there. It is NOT a picture of Mt. Williamson, it is a picture of the inside of Adam's head."

In what way was it a grand departure from reality? Was the mountain not there, was the light not towards the camera? Sure there has been very significant manipulation of contrast if I remember rightly (huge contraction) and perhaps to the left of the image a motorhome was parked....but I still dont get how it can be a radical departure?

tim atherton
08-12-2006, 09:01 AM
Ansels work if not realistic was a representation of how he felt as one poster put it....that sounds as good as reality to me - his 'inner space' or not, his images sre a product of his reponse to a real scene and although not literal are hardly a radical departure.

Donald, your quote states that art is a departure from reality. I have always felt that whilst some photography is art, not all photography therefore is. I am not sure Ansel was an artist as such, but this definition in my head makes not a jot of difference to my admiration for his achievements.

Tom - Ansels work was essentially about appearances. "Appearance" and "Reality" are basically opposites

David H. Bebbington
08-12-2006, 09:05 AM
Apparently not. Weston was referring to others.
Would you care to give us the full benefit of your boundless wisdom and tell us to whom Weston WAS referring?

Claire Senft
08-12-2006, 09:08 AM
Appearance and reality are quite different? Firstly, when a print, any print, is made in B&w it is, with the exception of a subject that has only tones of grey, a major departure from realism. Color prints would be somewhat more realistic.

So, how are appearance and realism to different entities? Does a "realistic" print have no "appearance?

Tom Stanworth
08-12-2006, 09:14 AM
Tom - Ansels work was essentially about appearances. "Appearance" and "Reality" are basically opposites

Whilst Alsels work may have been all about appearances, the remainder is not true at all. They can be opposites (certainly dont have to be), but can also be the same....the two are in no way related, I thought that was the whole point...don't judge a book by its cover etc etc?

Appearances can be a subtle slight of hand away from reality or 'smack on'. Without this getting silly, what is reality anyway etc etc...bla bla perception...

Ansels 'appearances...or perception' are certainly readily identifiable and this could perhaps be because they match the hue of our own internal rose tinted spectacles.

I still do not think that all his images are radical departures from reality. I think this vastly overstates what he actually did, which was very simple in concept, but taken to extremely high levels.