Like a lot of stuff in photography I tend to think of the black sky effect backwards. Sure, Ansel knew how to use a deep red filter against a deep blue sky to darken it. That part is easy. It is the additional darkening in the final gelatin-silver photograph by "burning in" that thrills me.
Making a sky dark by exposing paper to more photons is easy but why is the foreground not darkened too? Because something has been interposed in the exposing light beam to stop it getting to the foreground part of the picture. This process is, I believe, called "dodging". It seems that to "burn in" a sky is effectively the same thing as to "dodge" a foreground.
I once went through the actions of hand dodging a landscape photograph without the negative in the enlarger. Instead I inserted grey filter material of an average density equivalent to the actual negative. Intriguingly I got an image (blurry and out of focus, of course) and realised that it must be a primary photograph of my hands. Because photographic paper is negative acting primary photographs of sillhouetted hands are pale.
Next I put the negative into the enlarger and did the exposing and dodging in the conventional way. The final picture on gelatin-silver paper could be considered as a primary photograph of two things; the negative in the enlarger head and my hands in the light beam.
I have a small Ansel Adams photograph (all I could afford) that is strongly burned (= dodged) and I get goosebumps to realise that the in paler part of it, mixed up with all the image detail, is a primary photograph of Ansel's shadow play in the enlarger beam.
As I say, a strange way of looking at things.
Yes, he was very aware of his own fallibility.
Originally Posted by jovo
But I don't know that I could characterize it as a misstep; I think it certainly points to a later interpretation of his Mt. McKinley negative. For whatever reason, he printed it with a heavier mood. Just my two cents.
Just for general information. I was talking to a friend tonight on the phone. He just got back from Arizona and he got a look at the original glass plate negative of the Monolith. It is in five pieces. It had survived the studio fire(somewhat damaged), but not the test of time.
Originally Posted by agenkin
I am not particulary fond of overly darkened skies. As a steady diet, I find them a bit boring...just like photographers who shoot color, but never take the polarizing filter off their camera.
But unlike Jovo, I will not judge another photographer's decision-making ability by my own likes and dislikes. An apprentice may judge a master's work, but at the risk of sounding a little petty. I can understand if Ansel has played a piece light and airy for a long time, that he might decide to pound the keyboard a little harder once in awhile.
One thing I don't think I've see mentioned is that as Ansel aged, his eyesight started to fail. As a result, he may have been striving for more contrast in his prints, which led to heavier printing...
Carlos Hererra (who used to run the Workshop program in Yosemite), through conversations with people who used to work with Ansel, was told that the workshop assistants used to do the final toning of the prints, since Ansel would take them much too far - he just couldn't see as well to judge when the prints where 'done'.
So, in addition to a printers interpretation changing over time, physical changes may also play a role...