16 November 2007

Notes on Ansel Adams

I had the opportunity to view an exhibit of Ansel Adams work that is here at the Museum of the Rockies until January. I took the time to really enjoy the 25 original prints on display before listening to an overview of Ansel Adams life that was given by photo-curator Steve Jackson.

I have a love hate relationship with this iconic American photographer. I admire his work and his technical mastery, and even more what he did for conservation efforts in the USA to preserve the lands that he loved and shared with others through his art. However, in college I was beaten over the head with his zone system, once paying nearly $2,000.00 in film and processing costs in a semester to print a zone test that I couldn't seem to get right. I did that project four times over, and the professor finally gave me a mercy grade for effort. I never did make it all the way through that assignment. I will say that the effort I expended on that project made me the marginally successful darkroom printer that I became.

Last night, with almost ten years between me and that unforgettable project, I truly enjoyed viewing the prints. I learned a few things I didn't know about the man. He was a very good pianist that nearly went professional in the field of music. In every photograph I had seen previously of Ansel himself, he was wearing a hat. Until last night, I had no idea that he was bald. I also enjoyed this story. In 1933 he traveled at the height of the depression to visit Alfred Stieglitz in New York city. It was a rite of passage. Getting Alfred to approve your work meant that you had a hope of becoming a successful photographer. Alfred viewed Ansel's portfolio, opening the case, looking individually at each print, and putting each print individually back into the portfolio, and then retying the case. And then he repeated the entire process. Alfred looked at Ansel and said only, "You are welcome here any time." Ansel received the approval he had traveled across the country to receive, and he also burned his rear end on the radiator he was sitting on, because Alfred was sitting in the only chair in his studio.

Here are some quotes by Ansel that were shared with me last night.

"A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed." - Ansel Adams -

"To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which are latent in all things." - Ansel Adams -

"No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied - it speaks in silence to the very core of your being." - Ansel Adams -

"The negative is comparable to the composer's score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways." - Ansel Adams -

"It is my intention to present - through the medium of photography - intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to the spectators." - Ansel Adams -

"The truly capable photographer is no more conscious of the physical presence of his camera, than the musician is conscious of his instrument." - Ansel Adams -

"Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships." - Ansel Adams -

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