When I finally got the chance to see real prints by Adams and Edward Weston. It was somewhat liberating for me because I was disappointed - as my father, my first photographic teacher predicted I would be.
When I first started photography, the printing standards I set for myself were based on a false reference point - the laser-scanned duotone reproductions I poured over in some of Adams's books. They were ultra-sharp, silvery jewels with a heightened, almost three dimensional presence. No original prints I had seen up to that point by other photographers looked that way, and no matter how hard I worked I could not get photographic prints to even remotely resemble the Adams reproductions I saw in those books. It was immensely frustrating until I finally saw the real thing. They were great prints to be sure, but my father was right on. Even the small print sizes, and contact prints by Weston didn't have quite the sharpness, silvery tonality and jewel-like sparkle I knew from the books. This experience gave me the confidence to keep printing. I immediately signed up for a John Sexton workshop (something I had previously been afraid to do), mostly so I could show him my prints and get a reaction from a top printer. As it turned out he liked them very much and didn't see anything lacking in the tonality I had been so frustrated by for so long. I'm still extremely self critical, but at least I'm no longer chasing a false reference point.