In defense of Ansel

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by terry_dvorak, Jun 25, 2002.

  1. Someone over on's Nature forum pointed out an interesting
    review of the "AA at 100" show; you can read the review at

    The review is by Kenneth Brower (David's son), who hung out a lot at
    AA's place when KB was young (and even lived there for awhile). He
    takes "AA at 100" curator John Szarkowski to task for both the print
    selection of the show and for Szarkowski's analysis of Adams' work.
    Brower even manages to get in a few digs at postmodern photography
    along the way ("blurry, empty hipness," as I recall).

    Raises some provocative questions about "intent," especially in light
    of collectors' preference for photographers' early prints: Szarkowski
    likes AA's earlier, less contrasty, small prints; Brower likes AA's
    later, more Wagnerian, larger prints).

    Also good musings about whether Eastern urban critics can understand
    goals of Western landscape photography.

    Well worth reading, ideally BEFORE commenting on it below(!).
  2. Interesting review. Basically a savaging of Adams critics, including John Swarkowski who is the "Ansel Adams at 100" exhibit curator, whom the author feels are too cloistered (imprisoned?) in their New York City towers.
    I particularly liked the author's recollection of Adams calling Edward Steichen "the Anti-Christ of Photography." I also relished Mr. Brower pointing out that in Adam's landscapes ,devoid of people, there is very much a person present in every square centimeter of his prints and that person being Mr. Adams. But I disagree with Brower's assesment of Diane Arbus's work and his rejection of the value of earlier prints. This stance seems predicated in his nostalgia for his youthful associations with Adams and ignores Adam's own assesment of the negative as being similar to a musical composition in that it might be interpreted differently at a later time or possibly by a different printer.
    Adams made very large prints from the late 1930's onward. He liked seeing some of his work at a proper scale for the subject.. Adams also felt that the peak of his creative powers as aphotographer had passed by the early 1960s , after which he was either wrapped up in teaching, commercial work, or reprinting and re-interpreting his older negatives.
    If you have read this far you might want to search out Ansel Adams: A Biography by Mary Street Alinder to get a fleshed out background on much of what Mr. Brower writes about and where he writes from.
  3. What’s with all the endless rehashing of AA and his work? Can’t we let Mr. Adams rest in peace and move on, maybe even focus on our own photography instead of indulging in this adolescent hero worship? Sure he was good and contributed much to the photo community, but he wasn’t the only one. Who wants to walk in the shadow of another? Why be a wanna-be? Sure we don’t have the smog-free skies and silver rich film to work with, but don’t you guys and gals think you have the potential of creating equally expressive work?

    I get really tired of this trend to interpret history as the story of the big name people of fame, fortune, and power, as if the common man, the “little people” didn’t matter. Adams would have been nothing were it not for the thousands of people shooting LF commercially who gave a reason to keep producing film. Ditto the values of the common man who has been increasingly besieged by industrial and urban blight.

    There is some truth to the loving the wilderness to death line in the article. Adams deliberately promoted Yosemite (and the N. Parks) supposedly to further preservation. However, he should have been wise enough to understand that N. Park popularity has been a disaster for wilderness preservation. Adams apparently didn’t realize that he lived in a hedonistic, consumer society that would always push for high impact recreational exploitation and development of the parks. Everything E. Abbey wrote on industrial tourism in Desert Solitaire 35 years ago is still 100% true today. I think this is the danger of “place” photography, pix of icon scenery. Good imagery shouldn’t always depend on competently capturing pretty places know to the public, but this is what seems to pass for creativity these days, judging by what gets published and the fixation many have on shooting in the national parks.

    Great point about the easterners and their reactions. They can have NYC for all I care; let them fester in their smug urban catastrophe, just keep the mentality east of Kansas. Unfortunately the Eastern seaboard, California, and Texas run the country, so it seems like before long L.A. will come to us all. But for now, I plan on documenting as much of what remains of the west Adams photographed so well.

  4. My comments are based on the book (I tried to get into
    theSFMOMA the last week-end, and arrived too late in the
    afternoon given the 2-hour line). I always saw it as
    a revisitation of AA's work, because it showed many lesser
    known images or renditions. This can be disappointing or
    deceiptive if you think you are looking at a definitive reference
    book, which it isn't. The problem is that one expects from
    a centenary exhibit to be a reference retrospective. I would
    have shared Kenneth Brower's disappointment with the
    size of the prints. After all, there is a reason AA uses 8x10
    in the first place, and I don't think it is a mystery to anyone
    on this forum.
  5. Hmmmmm. Interesting. Thanks for bringing it up.
    IMHO St. Ansel's successors are not Robert Adams and his ilk, but Clyde Butcher, a Californian working in the swamps of Florida.
  6. Reading through the critique and thinking about the perennial division between East and West Coast photography, I couldn’t help observing how right and proper the whole thing is. Having lived on both coasts I can attest to the division in aesthetic sensibilities.

    Photographers who claim even a little of the artistic bent tend to photograph things they care about…and critics tend to put down things they don’t care about.

    Paul Strand practiced the same craft as did Ansel Adams but due to his social consciousness fed by having lived in a hotbed of class conflict, produced a vastly different body of work. Had he grown up next-door to Yosemite, he would have been doing rocks and cliffs right along with Ansel. And John Szarkowski probably never handled and ice axe or saw the morning sun on the East Face of Mt. Whitney. Hey, this is what makes life interesting.
  7. "What’s with all the endless rehashing of AA and his work? Can’t we
    let Mr. Adams rest in peace and move on . . . instead of indulging in
    this adolescent hero worship?"

    The fact is that--whether you like him, hate him, or envy him--AA was
    probably the most prominent photographer in history, certainly in the
    public mind. Like any prominent person, he's likely to be acknowledged
    at least occasionally by those in his field, just as painters will
    occasionally acknowledge Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, or another of
    their ilk.

    I didn't do a search, but I'm guessing that AA doesn't come up more
    than once every hundred threads or so in this forum. In fact, if the
    frequency of mentions in this forum defines "adolescent hero worship,"
    then Philip Greenspun, Brian Mottershead, and QTLuong (and not AA) are
    the true gods around here!

    I'm always amazed by how hard it is for us humans to admit that
    someone else might have done something before we did it.
  8. As I grow older I like larger prints. Not because I see poorly but because I like large prints. I also like smaller cars. If a print can fit into my car, the print is too small or the car is too too big. AA was a man of pratical wisdom and artistic honesty. As he grew older he liked bigger prints. No mystery.
  9. I really do not think this is a East West thing, but rather urban
    rural division. Urban culture and its constituents are so far
    removed from the natural world that they have convinced
    themselves that they do not need it. They can live without it.
    Clearly, they reason, any art that portrays the natural world in a
    natural and sensitive way is useless decorative art. I suspect
    some may even find it offensive and unnatural to their urban
  10. On the other hand, I'll bet a check of Barnes & Noble's calender sales would confirm that Adams and landscape photography in general has pretty wide popularity in urban centers both East and West. As I understand John Szarkowski's critique, he objects to the higher contrast in Adams's later prints, which he considers overly dramatic. I also thought he is displaying the older and newer prints side by side, so the viewer can decide for him/herself. But this is based on a column I read a couple of months ago. Anyhow, maybe it's all a matter of aesthetic taste?
  11. This is the second time I will post. The first time never made it! First I want to say thanks for the link and the comment!

    I attended the AA retro at MOMA back in the 70's that was also curated by Szarkowski. It was the first time I had ever seen fine prints of anyone and it was mesmerizing. It consisted primarily of AA's most noted and popular images, most printed high key, which I prefer. They were mostly of the larger sizes. Prints of the same negative done at different times of AA's life were hung together to show the changes and evolution of AA's creativity and craft. This was the first time this was ever done. The book "Yosemite and the Range of Light" came from the show.

    I also attended the Szarkowski lecture. The concluding statement was what I remember the best, that essentially said, Now we can all go home, to dinner, or for drinks to discuss what we have just seen and heard. Essentially saying this is all find and good, but don't let it consume you.

    AA at 100 is pretty much a different approach by Szarkowski, concentrating mostly on images that may be considered AA's seconds, rejects, images not widely known, printed in AA's earlier days, with some of his more popular images and style interspersed.

    One of the things that strike me is comparing my own prints with AA's at comparable age and stage of development and I think, wow, some of mine are better then his! HOW ARROGANT OF ME! No not really, because so are many other photographers prints. It says to me that AA had his phases, stages of development like so many others afterwards. That maybe he should not be idolized to the extent he is.

    To me, AA is the father of modern photography along with Stieglitz. Stieglitz identified it, and Adams defined it. AA's contribution of writings, textbooks, zone system, how to see, previsualize what you see and feel and translate it into the finished product is the foundation we all work and build on. That contribution can never be surpassed. AA was a true genius in that he realized that he is only a link in the chain. He encouraged, taught those who follow to build and improve on what he built. AA as great as he was, is not the epitome of landscape photography, the final say. If that were the case, why bother, we should all just hand up our tripods.
  12. Terry, adams wasn't at all the most influential photographer of
    photography history.
    He is very ( overly ) popular in the U.S. , but in europe for instance
    he is surpassed by names like Cartier Bresson , Kertesz, Strand
    and others. Photography includes much more than
    landscapes, i am sure you know that . . Let's face it ,Adams
    wasn't a real interpreter, but merely a recorder of nature.
    Most of the poirtature he did was pointless. His merit goes for
    the development of the zone system that helps many of us.
    I see Weston as a true artist with the camera, his sensibility
    tanspire through his images, but Adams?...... no, don't see it.

    I agree with you Hiperfocal in your view on photography and on
    your judgment about the trend that has been going on about
    landscape photography and in this self castration that many
    photographers inflict to themselves by positioning Adams as an
    hero whose work has reached untachable heights.
  13. I enjoyed the article but thought that Mr. Brower was pretty much biased against the exhibit from the outset because he didn't think John Szarkowski should have been the one to curate it. This idea in turn was based on all of the controversy surrounding MOMA's firing of the Newhalls and the hiring of Steichen to head the photography department shortly after WWII. While Adams resigned from his position on the MOMA photography advisory committee as a result of this matter, and held very bitter feelings towards the leadership of the Museum as a result of it, nevertheless it's obvious from Adams' correspondence with Szarkowski that he had a lot of respect for Szarkowski and they had a very cordial relationship. So I thought that Mr. Brower's obvious prejudice against the exhibit solely because he didn't think Szarkowski should have been the one to curate it was misplaced. Regardless though, it was an interesting article, well worth reading by anyone interested in photography regardless of your views about Ansel Adams' merit (and domenique, if you think Adams was simply a recorder of nature, you need to learn more about him).
  14. Domenico, I didn't say Ansel was the most "influential" photographer
    in history (though he's definitely in the top tier; anyone who does
    landscape photography is responding to the popularity of the AA
    aesthetic, whether they embrace it or reject it, just as almost every
    street photographer is somehow responding to Cartier-Bresson).

    I did say Adams was the "most prominent," and I stand by this (even
    though I personally prefer other photographers). In other words, if
    you asked members of the general public (nonphotographers) in every
    country to "name a famous photographer," I think Adams would get more
    mentions worldwide than would any other one photographer (of course,
    I'm speaking from the US, where Adams would far and away win such a
    poll; Cartier-Bresson might do better in Europe. I can't think
    members of the public would name Kertesz or Strand before Adams or
    C-B). Asia, I couldn't say. Interesting parlor game, anyway!
  15. I have been a painter longer than I have a photographer, for over 23 years. I have always drawn inspiration from going to the museums, and looking at the old masters of painting...Rembrandt...Degas...Picasso...
    In every era of painting there were "masters"; those who had achieved a high degree of artistry and proficiency in their work, and they inspired not only the artists of their time, but those who came after them. There are also many painters who, during their lifetimes, were dismissed by their contemporaries, never achieving fame, such as Jan Vermeer, or Van Gogh. Yet they are now considered "masters" as well. There are also painters who were considered "great" in their time, but now are hardly known or admired...Gerome was one of the most famous painters of 19th century France, making what amounts to a million dollars a painting in his day, but does anyone now remember him?
    "Modern" oil painting goes back to the days of Jan van Eyck and the fifteenth century. We have over six hunderd years of art to look at, as well as many different periods...Renaissance...Rococo...Baroque...Classical...Romantic..
    Only a generation after the Impressionists, the younger painters; the Fauves...the Nabis..these painters looked upon the older Impressionists such as Pissarro and Monet as hopelessly old fashioned, painting scenes from nature, lakes, mountains, fields... But a hundred years later, what painters are more famous, or more admired? Do we really want to replace the "older" paintings with the "newer? Do we replace the Rembrandt with the Picasso, or the Michelangelo with the Matisse?
    Photography is a relative newcomer to the arts. The swings and tilts of time gives us perspective on artists and their art. Let us not be too hasty to dismiss a photographer who was acknowledged as one of the greats in his own time, and a man who, more than anyone, made photography a fine art form...
  16. Domenico,
    You wrote " Let's face it ,Adams wasn't a real interpreter, but merely a recorder of nature...."
    That statement is no more more true than saying "Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dosineau, Strand, etc. only snapped what was happened to be in front of him." Such statements belie an ignorance of photographers and photography, and also betray an ignorance of Adams great work as a pusher and prodder of what a photographic print is capable of being, and also shows off a kind of aesthetic provencialism: is it not true that different people from different places living in different times have different influences on their creative work?
    Like Cartier-Bresson's best work, Adams best work is modern abstractionist art at its highest. All photography is abstract of course -- it is a result of many, many decisions made by the artist, starting with the thought "there might be the potential for a photograph here', proceeding through the process of deciding where to point the camera, what to leave in, what to leave out, waiting for the correct moment ("Photography is like hunting" to paraphrase H. Cartier-Bresson) and ending with the production of the print (or the electronic equivalent thereof. All of these decisions made by the photographer. This act of creation, whether made consciously or not, is inherent in every photographic image and renders your claim moot.
    The print Vickie Goldberger is "chilled by" according to the quote in the K. Brower article to me is very much like one of Paul Klee's black and white minimalist paintings. Both works, alive with the emotions and intellect of the artist, create their own reality, are a grand gesture of life and bear only the slightest connections to the raw material from which each was shaped.
    You are right to say that too many photographers (and critics) are just as dead & dessicated as poor old King Tutankhamen of Egypt when they mistake mere technical mastery as being artistic value and never strive to go beyond what has been done before by others.
  17. fpa


    A question I've had recently, having bounced it off my former mentor and some other photographically inclined people:

    Is it possible (probable?) that the late, 'Wagnerian' prints, that Brower argues Szarkowski overlooks, are in fact a response to Adams eyesight getting worse with age? He had to print in a more brilliant fashion in order to see the print as he had when younger?

    One thing I noted about his earlier pictures, is that they don't look too impressive when the original prints are seen, but when you see his reinterpretation, on modern paper, large, of a picture he took when he was 16, you realize that he had a good vision from the start, but had to wait for his technical skill to catch up. The show's fascination with the small, early, or proof, prints was valuable for that alone.

    As for the eastern critics, there's always the old quote that "the world is falling to pieces, and Adams and Weston are taking pictures of Rocks!" If you live in the concrete jungle, you wonder why anyone would want to live in, or record, the organic one. Their loss, but if they'd content themselves with writing for, and talking to other people on Manhattan, and leave the rest of the country free of their 'wisdom', I for one would be just as happy.

    (an easterner, but not an urbanite)
  18. Is it possible (probable?) that the late, 'Wagnerian' prints, that Brower argues Szarkowski overlooks, are in fact a response to Adams eyesight getting worse with age? He had to print in a more brilliant fashion in order to see the print as he had when younger?
    That point is also made or at least brought up in the Alinder biography of Adams. As I recall Alionder wrote that Adams was well aware of this.
    As for the eastern critics, there's always the old quote that "the world is falling to pieces, and Adams and Weston are taking pictures of Rocks!"
    That was made by Henri Cartier-Bresson during World War II, not by an "easterner". It is sort of an easy cudgel to use and against non socially motivated photographers if you remove it from the original context. H.C-B was unaware of the work Adams had done at the American concentration camp at Manzanar,California which imprisoned American citizens of Japanese descent.
  19. Domenico, I disagree with you on this.. Ansel's portraits were gorgeous for their time. Take a look at "Trailer Camp Children" and the way it was printed. It has a glow that isn't apparent in any of Bresson's work nor Eisenstadt, two of the most influencial photographers of their day. I find that many people base their likes and dislikes of various photographers by what genre they like or understand. Everyone thinks their hero is the best and fail to critically judge an artist by their accomplishments. Look at the image Ansel took of Orville Cox and Stieglitz muse. Awsome. the look between the two is wonderful. And Bresson couldn't have created any of Ansels images of the landscape because that wasn't his vision. He was the master of people. Of the urban scapes he was good. But he wasn't ther technician in the darkroom that Ansel was. So it's like which is the more exquisite flower. The rose or the orchid? Depends on your preference. And Ansel Adams is known very well in European photography circles. And much admired. ou need to read more on the collecting of photography around the world.
  20. Let me start by saying that i am not trying to insult anybody , so
    please, try to read what i have to say with a bit of detachment.... i
    do like to speak my mind.

    James, i have more books in photography that you can imagine,
    and yes, i have read them , i don't only watch the pictures.

    When i was talking about Bresson, that was an example , i view
    photography in a different way than he did . He would refuse to
    crop an image, his prints where of "poor " quality, in a nut shell
    bresson images reflected the fugitive moment he was talking
    about and surely a fine print would have failed to transmit to the
    viewer the "primordial energy.

    I insist, Adams portraits sucked, big time. What do you mean
    they were great for their time?
    Poirtrature photography has probably been the most popular
    kind of photography since the beginning of the medium. Look at
    Weston Stieglitz, Duhrkoop, Sander, Lange, Man Ray, Penn,
    Newton , And many others . That is excellence in poirtrature.

    Ellis, Adams has departed away from reality in his images very
    few times , and is true that those few times were his highest
    I have many of his books and i consult therm all the time,, and
    many times , when he explains the picture taking, negative
    developing and printing technique, he struggles to achieve' more
    realistics ' results.
    Adams prints show an extreme elegance, and elegance alone
    has nothing to do with Art, that's why Ansel is the photographer
    more revered by the masses. The majority of the people will
    look for the pretty picture but will not make themselves available
    for work that will question their world..
    Weston on the other end , a far deeper artist than Adams has
    never reached the same popularity . The same can be said for
    And Strand.
    And Brassai
    And so many others Me and many of you....
    Unfotunately, too many times the rule of thumb is that the fame
    of an artist is inversly proportional to his or her value .
    Adams was lacking that capacity of getting in tune with his inner
    world at the moment of the shot, that's why his images don't
    depart from reality. His prints were made with an incredible
    mastery of the tools on the other end.
    I disagree Ellis , when you say that photography is abstract.
    Then the same should be for paintings. Are they all abstract?
    Or is it the way the subject matter is handled that makes a piece
  21. Some may find AA's work pedestrian, but all of us have been influenced by it, the true sign of his importance to contemporary photography. Debates on whether he was the single most influencial photographer are ridiculous, as he would make any top 10 list.
    Szarnarski may not like AA's big prints at this time, but he certainly did in 1979 at the MOMA show, as the giant prints are what I remember best about the show. Maybe like all of us, his tastes have changed over time, but again it would be pointless to debate whether that change is for the better or worse. Change is change.
    Adams may not have liked New York, but he came East to get Steiglitz's blessing on his work. Us Easterners may not have ready access to Yosemite, but with 4 million visitors per year, you can be sure that many are from the East. Many are drawn to the parks because of AA's photographs. This too is AA's legacy, and while it may make the parks too crowded for some, viewing or communing with "Nature" is why they were established, and why AA fought for them.
  22. Domenico,

    I'm with you on just about everything you've said in this thread, but the stuff about Adams not being an interpreter of nature, you are just plain wrong about that. Others have accused you of not studying his work enough, but I think the problem is you haven't spent any time in the Sierra Nevada. You get a MUCH more realistic idea of the Sierra Nevada from Weston, who you claim did interpret what he saw (I'd agree with you there, too), than you get from Adams' work. Just because Adams said he was striving for "realism" doesn't mean he wasn't making big decisions about what he wanted to portray.

    Like you, I'd mostly prefer to look at other artist's works, but I have to say, Adams was one hell of an artist -- in his kind of limited regime, which is big pointy mountains with glaciers and lakes on them.
  23. AA not abstract? Photography not abstract? Well, Adams did not consider himself an abstractionist. When asked about his photography and Zen, he stated, "I practice Zone not Zen." But when you consider, taking what is precieved in real life, a 3 dimensional, full color reality, and interpreting, transforming it onto a two dimensional plane and in black and white, requires at least, some abstract interpretation.

    In my readings of AA, his autobiography, he never attended college, I don't think he ever got a high school diploma. I never heard of him ever taking any art courses. Yet his interpretations and compositions are as melodic, rythmic, flowing, expressive as any ever produced. He was trained to be a concert pianist, which in itself requires the understanding of abstract concepts. That type of musical personality, screams, cries, flows, emminates from his works like a piece of classical music, as varied in his images as there are pieces of music and composers. He had the uncanny ability to read the subject before him. Like sheet music, not only to see in his minds eye, but hear in his minds ear, the emotions from what was presented before him. Then transfer that music to the finished print. Many composers used the sounds and sights of nature as the basis for their great compositions. Adams produced visual images, rather then sound images.

    These ablities are something that cannot readily be taught. You either have it or you don't. Much like artistic abilities, you can only teach a person so much. To be truly unique, you either have that ability or you don't. Open your eyes, and hear the music.
  24. Domenico,
    ... I have many of his books and i consult therm all the time,, and many times , when he explains the picture taking, negative developing and printing technique, he struggles to achieve' more realistics ' results. Realistic to what he felt, I think.
    Adams prints show an extreme elegance(and command of techique), and elegance alone has nothing to do with Art, that's why Ansel is the photographer more revered by the masses.
    Not true. Adams is so widely known and vastly popular because he hired someone to market his work i nthe early 1970s, to turn him into a brand name so he could finally quit struggling to make ends meet. He is also popular because his images fit America's ideas of itself in the the same way that Woody Guthrie's songs (This Land is Your Land) fit America too.And because the quality of the work is there. Also landscapes are always more popular than other subjects of art.
    The majority of the people will look for the pretty picture but will not make themselves available for work that will question their world.
    Oh yes, absolutely. You do know that Adams was one ofthe strongest and most effective opponents of a very serious plan to turn Yosemite Valley into a lake to power a hydroelectric station? This is why I think his work is valuable, it does help to change people's perception of the world. I had a great discussion yesterday with a friend about one of my favorite photographers, Nicholas Nixon, whose work does just that ( my friend happens to own a lot of outstanding photography, including some of Nixon's prints.
    Weston on the other end , a far deeper artist than Adams has never reached the same popularity . The same can be said for Stieglitz. And Strand. And Brassai And so many others Me and many of you.... Unfortunately, too many times the rule of thumb is that the fame of an artist is inversely proportional to his or her value. Adams also did much to create a serious market for photographs and to make the general public think of photography as being as worthy of serious consideration as painting or sculpture. Steiglitz, Adams, Strand, Cunningham, Weston & Cartier-Bresson dragged Photography out of being a sleepy art form imitative of painting. and into the modern era.
    ...Adams was lacking that capacity of getting in tune with his inner world at the moment of the shot...
    I'm sorry but I needs must say that you are very out of your depth here and truly do not know what you are speaking of. Just because his work does not touch you does not mean that he "lack(ed) that capacity of getting in tune with his inner world at the moment of the shot." Landscape photography (and I say this as on who practices that form of photography badly) definitely has it's decisive moments too. I think you are passionately putting forth a good argument but this point is just wrong.
    ...that's why his images don't depart from reality. Have you ever visited the realities he photographed? Again I think the problem is with your perception of his work.
    I disagree Ellis , when you say that photography is abstract. Then the same should be for paintings. Are they all abstract? Or is it the way the subject matter is handled that makes a piece "abstract"?
    I am glad you disagree, but I think it is both, and more, it is in the viewer's perception. Do you see a photograph as a mere depiction of what was in front of a camera, or as a thing itself? Do you look at paintings in this way? I think I photograph best when I photograph my "visions", and see with my emotional senses as well as my physical & intellectual being. having visited your website I think you do this as well Domenico. Would Adams work look the same if he were alive, young and photographing today? How could it? Adams was definitely of his time and place. It is such an obvious point, but we too have no choice but to look at Adams work now as we are now, informed by everything that has happened since, and by the societies that surround us.
  25. After reading these posts and the Brower review, I trudged back to Barnes & Noble to have another look at the "Adams at 100" book. The most interesting thing to me wasn't that his printing had changed much, but that the papers he printed on were different. The early work is almost Sepia in coloration, and except for the Aspens photograph, the entire collection is printed on warm-tone paper, with yellow (not white) high values, and getting less yellow each year. It definitely creates a completely different emotional response. St. Ansel's warm-toned prints say, "if you look at me I will give you pleasure." The Cold-tone prints say "LOOK AT ME!!!"
  26. Bill, you think the book was sepia because the early prints were sepia? I haven't seen the 'century' exhibit, but, when looking at the companion book, assumed they just printed it using warm ink. This year's AA calendar is printed the same color. I don't like it, and didn't purchase the book because of that color. An AA exhibit of three or four years ago that came through my area included a few early prints; I don't remember them being so warm.
  27. Having seen just about every print that he made and has been exhibited west of the rockies, I have to say that Adams was a very good and creative photographer. I agree that as the materials that became available to him changed, so did his printing style. In the early years of his work the papers were not as capable of portraying the white that his latter choice of materials was. Like the Oriental Seagull and Agfa Brovira (I think) and we have to remember also that the materials he had at his disposal were all graded papers and the ability to render different tones within the same paper was not available. 1/2 a grade was all that he could get with his developers. And I still say that we must look at all of his work and try to look at the prints themselves in some sort of chronological order before expressing our views of his work. And remember our own prejudices regarding the genre in which he worked.
  28. Ansel Adams’ legacy—not AA himself—seems to me to be a victim of its own success. AA became a celebrity, and as with celebrities in music, sports, the movies, etc., promoters or sellers of b&w photography see him as their cash cow/ace-in-the-hole. Everywhere in the entertainment/art world, it’s always the same few “stars.” AA is what the buying/viewing public wants—or has been conditioned to want. I certainly sympathize with the artists or professionals who have a hard time making a living because the only thing people want is another reproduction of “Moonrise.” I’ve long wondered this might be a reason why some of the LF community have turned against him or his work—or least have little positive to say. My own beat is academia, where “reputation” is half or more of the battle and very resistant to change.

    To make matters worse in AA’s case, it’s always the same few negatives among the 40,000 he is reported to have shot and developed. Someone said somewhere that he himself was unhappy with the fact that publishers kept asking for the same images. So it’s difficult for all except the archivist/scholar/historian to form an opinion of the totality of his work. At the same time, since photography invariably involves a lot of trial-and-error, the artist who preserves every negative is running the risk that future generations will judge him or her by inferior work. Brett Weston probably went too far, but when he destroyed all his negatives he was on the right track, I think. I also have in mind a couple of “masters” of LF b&w who in my opinion are very ill served by comprehensive historical editions or collections of their work. The federal gov’t owned nat’l park images done by AA and because they’re in the public domain constantly reprinted in cheap editions is another case in point—at least they don’t seem to me to be up to his usual standard.

    I learned a lot from Kenneth Brower’s article. The point about size is a good one. If AA enlarged, then why not hang enlargements? I haven’t seen the exhibit or read Szarkowski’s commentaries, but since at least two of his MoMA publications (Photographer & the American Landscape and American Landscapes) are partly historical, i.e. pre-enlarger, maybe he was thinking in terms of AA’s predecessors. However that may be any purism on this point would be entirely out of place. The 19th c. was all about grandiosity. Consider the panorama paintings, for example. I don’t think W.H. Jackson would have hauled that 20x24” camera around if an enlarger had been available.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary or wise to promote AA (or any artist like him) by denying the realities of the modern world. AA’s work at Manzanar and throughout his career for the Sierra Club prove that he wasn’t denying them either. You can like and admire AA without being a reactionary with your head in the sand. So I find this “controversy” a little puzzling. Because I grew up in California and have visited Yosemite many times from the 1950s on, it’s impossible for me to imagine how a New Yorker views these landscapes. But like many of us I suspect, for me AA is very much part of the living past, an old friend (who I never met), teacher (if only from books), and point of reference. He’s not a celebrity at all, but just a damn good photographer who made sure he was in the right place at the right time and nailed a helluva lot of shots.
  29. Remember The Mountain Bed

    Do you still sing of the mountain bed we made of limbs and leaves:
    Do you still sigh there near the sky where the holly berry bleeds:
    You laughed as I covered you over with leaves, face, breast, hips and thighs,

    You smiled when I said the leaves were just the color of your eyes.

    Rosin smells and turpentine smells from eucalyptus and pine
    Bitter tastes of twigs we chewed where tangled woodvines twine.
    Trees held us in on all four sides, so thick we could not see...

    I could not see any wrong in you, and you saw none in me.

    Your arm was brown against the ground, your cheeks part of the sky,
    Your fingers played with grassy moss, as limber you did lie:
    Your stomach moved beneath your shirt and your knees were in the air...

    Your feet played games with mountain roots as you lay thinking there.

    Below us the trees grew clumps of trees, raised families of trees, and they
    As proud as we tossed their heads in the wind and flung good seeds away:
    The sun was hot and the sun was bright down in the valley below...

    Where people starved and hungry for life so empty come and go.

    There in the shade and hid from the sun we freed our minds and learned
    Our greatest reason for being here, our bodies moved and burned.
    There on our mountain bed of leaves we learned life's reason why...

    The people laugh and love and dream, they fight, they hate to die.

    The smell of your hair I know is still there, if most of our leaves are blown,
    Our words still ring in the brush and the trees where singing seeds are sown.
    Your shape and form is dim, but plain, there on our mountain bed...

    I see my life was brightest where you laughed and laid your head.

    I learned the reason why man must work and how to dream big dreams,
    To conquer time and space and fight the rivers and the seas
    I stand here filled with my emptiness now and look at city and land...

    And I know why farms and cities are built by hot, warm, nervous hands.

    I crossed many states just to stand here now, my face all hot with tears,
    I crossed city, and valley, desert, and stream to bring my body here:
    History and future blaze bright in me and all my joy and pain...

    Go through my head on our mountain bed where I smell your hair again.

    All this day long I linger here and on in through the night.
    My greeds, desires, my cravings, hopes, my dreams inside me fight:
    My loneliness healed, my emptiness filled, I walk above all pain...

    Back to the breasts of my woman and child to scatter my seeds again.

  30. Yeah Tribb. I remember the equation now. Thankyou Woody for romance.
  31. Thanks Trib, I needed that. A worthy addition to the LF forum
    discussion of AA at 100.

    I am no longer in Houston. I have escaped Texas for the green
    hills of Georgia. Pleases end me an e-mail address that works
  32. GREAT THREAD! I enjoyed reading all the posts!
  33. Dear Domenico,
    1. Watch please your mouth when slurring "sucked" etc.
    2. Stop reading (or perhaps just buying) books on photography because they simply have punched your brains out. I've never seen your pics (surprise) but it's quite obvious you're full of yourself. I suggest you spend more time in the darkroom trying to master what AA so kindly described for us (have you actually been in a darkroom?). AA's writing style alone, inspired many young (and old) photographers who struggled with their prints so much before. AA's mastery cannot be explained, it must be felt. If you only spend a little time with his books you might have understood where AA's genius was coming from.
    3. Comparing Ansel Adams to Bresson, Stiglitz (and others) is no different then comparing Beatles to Mozart (just an example). AA was in essence a landscape photographer, those you try to compare him to were not. Street (or snap) photography takes a different approach than landscapes. You can compare them all you want, but your conclusions will NEVER add up.
    4. There is a number of jerk offs on this forum who time and again try to discredit AA's accomplishments. I refuse to understand it but I cannot let it stand. I've tought photography many young people. You would have to see what reading AA's books did to their sense of aestethics as well as camera and darkroom skills. I know you have no clue what I'm talking about. So be it.
  34. Witold,
    you are absolutely right.
    I have very little right to express my opinion on this matter. And
    you are right also when you say that the photography books i
    bought have never been opened. I am sorry. Has always been a
    shortcoming of mine to appear more intellettual than i really am.
    When i was a kid my parents used to tell me that i was stupid
    and no good, and being child i used to believe them.
    The only way to cope with the pain was to buy books and " look "
    intellectual. I thought i had outgrown this issue , but looks like
    therapy for me is going to be a lifetime committment.

    Please, let me say that i wasn't comparing Adams work with
    Bresson's . We were talking about popularity. I do apologize if i
    led you to this kind of misinformation, this too derives from the
    same issue: i find it very hard to explain myself with proper
    words especiall considering that i am not writing in my mother

    When i read in your post that you were in doubt if had ever set
    foot in a darkroom , i was puzzled and upset , because i couldn't
    understand if you knew me or you have a deep understanding
    of the uman behaviour( although i think the latter is true since
    you are a teacher and obviously an observer).
    You are right , i never did such a thing, just the idea of staying for
    hours in a room with just a faint green light doesn't only makes
    me's hard to explain.

    In one thing i have to say you are wrong. I would never compare
    Mozart with the Beatles. Although almost contemporaries their
    music stiles were TOTALLY different .
    While one was german the others were British , which has a
    great effect on the outcome of the finished product, i agree with
    you .

    Although the tone of your post is benign , since you start it with
    "dear Domenico" ( and i thank you for that) , i have to say that
    the " jerk offs " expression has taken me by surprise and hurt
    me somewhat. Then after a little reasoning i have realized that
    you, as a responsible educator, did it with a deeper purpose.
    You wanted to shake me , from my state of ignorance and
    propell me in a world of discovery and creativity. This is what
    they call TOUGH LOVE. And i thank you for that. I also promise
    you that i will struggle not to use words like "suck" in such a
    gratuitous way.

    Again thank you for caring and pointing out these flaws of mine,
  35. georgia? aww tex, the hell you say! been to see tom yet? give him a big sloppy kiss fer me.

    sorry friends...

  36. Trib you tramp. You'll kiss just about any old hick! Love, Lumberjack
  37. yojimbo!

    kisses to you too lumberjack...

    here, got some more woody lyrics fer ya... they're a little crumply, sorry, been in my pocket.


    My flying saucer where can you be...
    Since that sad night that you sailed away from me?
    My flying saucer, I pray this night...
    You will sail back.... before the day gets bright

    My flying saucer, fly back for home...
    You will get lost in the universe alone.
    My flying saucer, end all my fears....
    Sail back tonight, love and kiss away my tears

    My flying saucer, I pray this night
    You will sail back before the day gets bright
    You will sail back before the day gets bright
  38. I'm so glad, Domenico, you've managed to read to my post. I'm just as glad to have read yours. And yours proves my whole point. A display of sarcasm at its best, just to prove you did not get it. I simply attacked your primitive language that should have not taken place. I realize you belong to that awsome group of individuals who believe free country should allow everything and anything. It's one thing to disagree, and another to demean. Your posts regarding Ansel Adams as a rather average photographer were little else but academic discussions. There is different definitions of that but I like looking at it as something that if said backwards would not have affected the total balance of what was said in the first place. A typical derivative of what's being tought in many collage courses, the skill of dicussing without having any grasp of the subject. In other words plain BS. You're dead wrong on putting AA at a much lower level than those GREAT ones (Bresson, Steglitz etc). Just as you misunderstood my Beatles/Mozart example. There have been very few accomplished photographers in the history of the field, who mastered the entire process, from chosing a subject, through shooting for a desired result, to a final (predetermined) output. And what a great output that was. There has never been any myth about AA's work. Only such a myth could have made him more popular than he deserved. Europe is just beginning to recognize his genious. Wait and see in a few years. It has always had to do with one fundamental difference between European and American mentality.Europeans would often say What form of art is that? How could it be art if all one needs to do is look around and take a picture? Artist must be capable of using pencil, brush, or chisel. He cannot just use a film and record what anyone can easily see. Artist is one who draws, paints, sculpts etc. Photographer? No way. Look through photography schools in all of Europe and see for yourself what they require. That's the mentality that never affected American approach to seeing art. That's why Ansel has been far more recognized here than elsewhere. But that does not (and should not) take away anything from what he's so greatly accomplished. I will also say that anyone who tries to judge Ansel's work (be it technique, expression, composition) but who is not a complete photographer, is at a substantial loss. Judging just his photograph is like taking the whole thing out of context. But some live to critique others. That's what they do. In a way it helps us, photographers, because no matter what's been said there may be some truth to it, or at least something to think about.
  39. Wow, what a thread! Let me add a few comments.
    First, backround.

    I have been involved in photography 50+ years and a printer for 40+. My first encounter with AA was in 1961, the book "My Camera in the National Parks". In it, a brief explanation of the zone system, which I took to heart without actually learning it. Disaster!! I put important shadows on zone 1, using Adox R-14 in a Rolleicord. Fortunatly, the exposures were too good to be true, so I did a few believing the meter as well.

    Ansel has been vilified even back then. Recovering from the mistake, I sought out help, attending a few meetings of the Chicago Camera Club, and when I asked About Ansel, a big sneer showed up on the face of a member. He trotted over to a file cabinet, laying on top was a mounted print of Ansel's covered in dust! "Here's what we think of him!" he stated, and tossed, I mean tossed, the print at me!

    I never went back.

    Another recollection. I now live in Portland OR, and a few years ago, the Oregon Historical Society had a retrospective on photographers who worked in Oregon. Ansel had one print,and as soon as I saw it I knew that he had printed it on Ilford Ilfobrom, with the same look I was getting, which I didn't like. And, here was a master, printing in the mid 60's who didn't have a better print than I did on that paper.

    So, it seems that Ansel put his pants on one leg at a time, just as we do.

    Ansel is the reason I continued on, and the reason is that, as hopeless as it was to consider following in his footsteps (touring Death Valley the first time, I would see a picture possibility unfolding and when I got to the primo spot, there in front of me was another Ansel, already done!) I realized that he hadn't photographed everything; there was lots more to do. And in doing it , I evolved my own sense of photographic possibilities.

    Ansel doesn't need defending. He is a giant, upon whose shoulders one needs to stand if one is to see further.

  40. What can i say Witold,

    we'll probably never be friends...
    I have no intention to change your mind, and you will not
    manage to change mine even though you are trying so hard.

    Adams is not and probably will never be my cup of tea( unless
    you point a gun at me ), I find 90 % of landscape photography
    boring unless is filtered through the artist individual imagination.

    Please, please don't insist, you are starting to sound like one of
    those born again christians fanatics.
    You assume too many things about me and you don't even know
    me. Don't think that your profession might give you special
    rights, in my life i have known plenty of teachers and professors
    who were or narrowminded or they didn't know what they were
    talking about. So, please, don't put yourself on the pedestal .
    I reserve the freedom to express my opinions , freedom that you
    say shouldn't be allowed to me .
    I would love to have a discussion with you with a bottle of fine red
    wine and brie cheese ( ah , these europeans !) , but i don't think
    it will ever happen.
    By the way who ever told you that Europeans view Photography
    not yet as a form of Art?
  41. Can't quite understand what the arguing is about. We all have our opinions and whether you like the guy or not he was, is and will continue to be a great influence in the world of photography. I should understand what the arguing is about, I know. After all, when I was a kid I was so bright my parents called me Sun.
  42. Well, I come late to threads anyways, but here's my 2 pfennig: I agree with Domenico, almost to a T, but disagree strongly with what Witold wrote. Aside from the latter getting into personality issues, and the former writing that Adams' portraits sucked (I found them mediocre, but quite technically competent), it really does come down to a matter of taste. Hate broccoli, hate fish, hate beer, always will; will never acquire taste. Love camembert, love steak, love flan, love Scotch whiskey; never needed to acquire taste, it was love at first bite or first sip.

    Same goes for photography. Now, I actually like Adams' works, but it stops there. I admire them technically, and am moved by them in an emotionally detached way, like listening to a Haydn symphony. That's my emotions, and you can't argue with emotions -- they're either there or they're not. Trying to convert someone to be overflowing with emotional empathy for the works he feels nothing for in particular is like the efforts of some naive psychiatrists 50 years ago trying to convert homosexuals to like women. Ain't gonna happen.

    However, to reach my emotions, I have found that photography needs to have an element of the intellectual about it. This is why I can respond, in awe, to Edward Weston's work, but not to Adams. There was a great mind at work there, behind the lens. Same goes for my favourites of all time, Weegee, Walker Evans, Leni Riefenstahl, Albert Renger-Patzsch. To me, looking at their works -- to use the music analogy -- is like listening to Sibelius' Seventh Symphony or Rachmaninoff's Die Toteninsel. Blows me away every time.

    As for the East Coast/Urban vs. West Coast/Rural debate, I hope this ain't gonna end up with our posses poppin' each otha, and puttin' da smack down on yo ass, bee-yotch, like dat otha East Coast/West Coast feud.

    Nonetheless, me and my homeys are just waiting to see what happens if Walka Evans gets dissed next year for his c-note dead presidents anniversary. Word!
  43. Isle of the Dead? Dull middle.

    I once made the first ascent of a 6000 m mountain in the
    Karakorum range of Northern Pakistan. We started climbing at
    midnight, and as dawn arrived we had just broken through a
    large overhanging snow cornice onto the summit ridge. About
    two hundred miles away to the east, the sun was streaming past
    K2, tumbling over the serrated lines of the intervening mountain
    ranges, and blushing our summit with delicate touches of
    pink-tinged magic.

    Adams captures my feelings at that moment far better than any
    other photographer, despite the multitude who try, and despite
    his use of B+W. I actually believe that his approach to nature is
    limited and restrictive: he seems to feel that silent awe is the
    only appropriate response to mountain landscapes. But he
    expressed that single idea with such magnificence I cannot
    understand people who say he was merely a technician.
  44. Struan: "Dull middle" in Die Toteninsel? I prefer "reverie," but to each his own. At least you're cultured enough to know what I'm talking about. So, ti salud!

    Besides Weston, there was one other photographer who does it for me, and relates nature to me the way Struan describes his own response to Adams' pics, and that's Vittorio Sella, who, incidentally, was one of Adams' inspirations.

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