AA advocated the use of full black in prints, no doubt. But in regard to his own aesthetic, what he did not prefer, from what is in the literature that I can tell, was a large percentage of the image containing empty black space. For me, it depends on the image wether or not I find that appealing. But it is also no doubt, that he did not ignore the extreme ends of the gray scale at all:
"...the subtleties of the lightest and darkest tones involve the entire range of the paper's sensitivity, and often the qualities characterizing a truly fine print may be found in the delicate variations of the extremely light and dark values."
AA - The Print
That simply says it all right there when it comes to AA and his intent. And it all points back, IMO, to his use of the ZS and the command of craft to be able to make a negative to achieve such a level of self imposed perfection. One of the greatest things about AA, IMO, is that there were not any magic tricks in his brand of photography that enabled him to achieve that level for himself. Today, we have available to us: chemicals, film, paper, camera, and light meter, the same as in his day................like I said, no magic tricks. I personally strive for that same useage of the entire gray scale in what I do, I find that I am drawn to pictures that have it as opposed to those that don't.
Think about that when you are out and about. If you can't find a straight landscape that's worth committing to film, there might be an abstraction.
I think part of this discussion relates to the f64 camp vs Pictorialists and soft focusers.
Adams liked his strong blacks, sharp with detail.
Pictorialists and soft focusers aren't married to sharp with detail across the whole print.
In many cases we Pictorialists and soft focusers simply aren't even trying to convey detail where the f64 camp does. In fact when shooting the same scene we even obliterate the detail purposefully with selective focus or movements to emphasize the subject.
When the shadows are just fuzzy tones any way, they have a different roll than if they were shot sharp.
Edward Weston called them, the "fuzzy wuzzies".
rhythms in the abstract patterns on the rock face, while retaining the overall feel of a chaos. I placed high on low, and have given N+2 in some of those photographs. I feel that I have helped the viewer see what the eye doesn't easily grasp, while looking at those famous sandstones.
On the other hand, I have found that an unusual placement in more recognisable, natural looking landscape is trickier, and does not work as easily as it does in an abstract. I hope to learn more about it, from reading your comments, and by experimenting further.
PS. I hope I have not offended anyone by linking to my two abstract pictures. Apologies if otherwise, the only aim was to illustrate my point, as this discussion is very relevant to me at the moment.
Bill - You might want to try experimenting with a doc-type film such like Adox CMS for extreme expansion of a short scale subject. With less extreme contraction than we normally treat these films with, they can give you a full density scale within a 3-4 stop exposure range. I have a curve somewhere I'll try to find and post. I guess the problem would still be extremely poor speed though, compared to an extreme expansion with a general purpose film.
Shawn Dogherty: First, when I said that Ansel was an academic I was in no way demeaning his work, simply that his theory was stronger than his creativity. There is nothing wrong with that; indeed, to be that way allows one to be considered (justifiably) an 'anchor' in this field: a safe harbor that allows us to compare and contrast others with because he is a 'standard' just like the New York Times is a newspaper of record.
Rafal Lukawiecki, rather than 'hijacking' this thread with your photo 'Canon X, Entrance', you have contributed. I like the black in the shadows and this is a good example of how the enhanced highlights and 'no information' blacks contribute, indeed synergize, into a feeling of, what I will call 'aesthetic anticipation'. We are DRAWN into the photo in order to 'discover'. I am a bit confused with people who you said are disturbed with that black, though.
And Michael R 1974: I do agree that Ansel's work is, as you say, 'free'. He is probably the best pictorialist ever, although many might match him. He is a 'safe' photographer, without the fluff. For example, to me at least, someone like Diane Arbus comes across as his polar opposite. To me, Ansel Adams and Yosuf Karsh are really the 'same' other than for their very different subject matter. I say this because both sought a sublimated, enhanced truth. - David Lyga
An example of an Adam's pictorialist photoraph, negative and print 1929:
An example of not a pictorialist photograph, negative 1948, print 1963:
I have a feeling he would not like to be known as the best pictorialist ever, but that is just my take on it. :D