What makes Ansel Adams so special?
"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)
- 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.
Your friend appears to have no appreciation for greatness.
However, he may still be thick!
IMO, AA set the standard by which all the rest of us who shoot nature aspire to be like.
He was original.
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
Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy. Pope Paul VI
So, I think the "greats" were true to their visions, once their visions no longer sucked. Ralph Barker 12/2004
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.
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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.
Originally Posted by Mark_S
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)
Last edited by JBrunner; 10-29-2006 at 02:19 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
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.
Using film since before it was hip.
"One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal
, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11
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Ansel Adams was to photography what Albert Bierstadt was to painting.
Originally Posted by mhv