I think dfcardwell's essay above resonates with me strongly. This is anything but a beautiful scene, but it nonetheless conveys a great deal of beauty because of the way the emotion of it is translated visually. It's the antithesis of the color, calendar kind of photograph that's so "pretty", and so easily dismissed, because it doesn't seem to have filtered through the photographer in a manner that is emotionally expressive. The irony is that AA's work is probably best known by the calendars of it that have offered only a few of his images repeatedly year in and year out.
Why was the scene not beautiful? how do you know it was very different to the photograph?
Originally Posted by jovo
What has Ansel done that has changed it so? How is this "emotion translated visually" so that it differs from the real scene (in ways other than tone, contrast, selective composition etc)?
I agree about the emotional effect (some of) his images have but would argue that the relative serenity/beauty/tranquility imparted into this image was simply a product of his being able to experty take control of harsh lighting (which bear in mind our eyes have little trouble with it is only film that struggles with this sort of brightness range...)
I would be hard pressed to expect the average person to look at a boulder strewn field and see 'beauty'. In fact, if I were facing some imposing mountains with 'god rays', I'd probably either visually ignore the boulders, or move someplace else to include a less problematic (and I say that because AA discusses the making of this photograph, and as I recall, it was a very difficult one to print.) foreground. But, AA, through his skill in 'making' a photograph found power in the boulders that he (in my opinion anyway) was able to relate to the majesty of the mountains by control of the process. I don't see this as a scene of "relative serenity/beauty/tranquility" but a unified expression of natural power and strength that required the vision of an artist to reveal. It's a whole greater than its parts.
Originally Posted by Tom Stanworth
One of the reasons I like this image so much is it is about as close to pure abstraction as Adams ever goes. While it is a farily straight forward image of a boulder field and distant mountains, I think the shapes and modulation of the light and shadow on the boulders resonates with the viewer more then the "factual" elements of the work.
The great problem with Adams is that even though he wrote several books about photography, he was all in all a pretty poor comunicator. As Mr. Cardwell so ably points out, Adams work was his interpretation of reality and through choice of lenses, filters and printing manipulations, his final results more often then not departed greatly from a factual rendering. yet many photographers who try to emulate his style believe he was a great proponent of straight photography. He was part of the time, especially with regards to the F64 period, but his nature work was his own abstract take on what he saw and felt.
There are dozens of landscape photographers today who sell and publish work that technically puts Adams to shame. They have out Adamsed Adams! But how many produce work with the same emotional content?
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
hence the correct placing of him as a Late Late Romantic
Originally Posted by Jim Chinn
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This is a classic Ansel Adams image. He used the near/far relationship to bring the illusion of depth to the scene and overly dramatic skies to the point that it becomes boring for me.
Adams influenced me at the outset. But having spent time in locations where the Adams genre of images can be readily seen and photographed by anyone who visits these places, his work leaves me somewhat underwhelmed today. That was not the case until I spent an appreciable amount of time in those types of locations.
Adams, in my view, sought to fashion compositions from groupings of forms...in an attempt to portray an experience, if you will...whereas a photographer such as Weston sought to portray the essence of the individual forms. In certain ways these two were polar opposites in their approach.
I have a greater appreciation for the work of the latter.
I am not taking the position that Adams should not or could not bring a certain visual experience to another person. I am simply stating that this is my experience of seeing his work.
This image resonates at a deeper level for me because, if I remember correctly, he took this image while on a break from photographing Japanese American families who were imprisoned during WW2 in 'internment camps'. It's not a record of a place in time...it's the photographic representation of his emotions.
Someone asked me a couple days ago what I thought about Ansel, and I came up with this;
"One hell-of-a-guy who co-authored a system of exposure and development whereby those who didn't become entangled within the technical aspects of the system could use the more consistant results it offered as a springboard towards a purer means of self expression.
Many people who entered the system, never came out. Many people so enthralled by the Master Himself and his images, never found their own way of seeing. A few generations of photographers later, some hate him without knowing much about him.
If I were the editor of a music magazine, I wouldn't send the jazz critic to an opera, or the rap critic to a string quartet...I wonder how many of these people who dismiss his photographs have ever spent any appreciable length of time in Nature?
History will tell of his enduring importance. Safe bet in my mind."
Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.
I hear ya talkin' Donald, but I don't see the photographic evidence. Words are easy...having your prints stand shoulder to shoulder with Ansel's stuff is a wee bit harder!
Originally Posted by Donald Miller
Note to self: Turn your negatives into positives.
This is still one of my favourite AA photographs. I don't have the means to travel to the places themselves and therefore I can't say how much the photos would mean to me if I had had the possibility. I never have had the chance to see any of them in original or any size bigger than say, postcard size.
To me, he comes through as a craftsman in every positive aspect of that word.
There's no denying he has had a huge impact on how I see and the technical part of my photographs. The three books were the only ones I had for seven years - and I still use them for reference and help. If Mary Ellen Mark was the first one that made me want to make photographs, then Ansel Adams was the one who gave me the tools to make them with. And I still think in zones...
“Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.” - Lao Tzu
Someone described Adams' photographs as Wagnerian - and I think that's a good description. (For those who might not know, Richard Wagner was a late-Romantic composer of orchestral works and opera).
A couple of years ago, I had a chance to see an Adams exhibit at the University of Florida. The works came from a private collection and most were not the prints one usually sees today. This collector sought out vintage prints - prints made near the time the negatives were exposed. Thus, there were many prints from famous negatives, but the prints were smaller - and far less contrasty - less bold - in other words, far less Wagnerian. Many from 4x5 negatives were printed smaller than 8x10. These prints demonstrated how much Adams vision changed over the years - and they challenge his own expressed ideas about visualization. Did he really visualize the dramatic prints that he made later in life (and was unable to make them until more modern materials came along) or did he change his visualization as he grew as an artist?
Adams did take photographs of things - and his feelings about them. He also explored relationships - as Donald says frequently near-far. It's interesting to see how differently viewers can react to them - what they bring to the print and what they search for.
Like Donald, I was influenced by his work early and am less so now. I have not only his three books from the 80s, but the five little books that preceeded them. Those books were my introduction to photographic theory and performance (yes, I view photography as a performance - I'm a musician, what can you say?)
The instant photograph is pure Adams at his best - Elsa's arrival at the cathedral after the long procession.