View Full Version : Robert Adams

30-Jun-2015, 12:40
Do you know what film and paper are used by Robert Adams ?:confused:
His prints are really gorgeous.


Drew Wiley
30-Jun-2015, 12:48
Like most of us he probably has used different papers due to availability changes over the decades. The prints I have seen looked like they were printed on Kodak
Polymax, but that's a guess based on certain characteristics visually.

30-Jun-2015, 12:57
Thank you Drew.


30-Jun-2015, 13:03
I read an interview somewhere where he described a process of taping his roll film into a loop and then tray processing it in order to ensure he had those smooth sky tones.

that said, I'd say most of the new west photographs were made with materials that aren't around today.

Mark Sampson
30-Jun-2015, 18:09
Take a look at the book "Landscape: Theory" where he talks some shop.

30-Jun-2015, 19:21
Take a look at the book "Landscape: Theory" where he talks some shop.

Great tip, I'm not familiar with that one.

30-Jun-2015, 21:15
Thank you Mark. I'll get this book.

Drew Wiley
1-Jul-2015, 09:25
I dug up an old copy of that exact book last nite. A fair amount of chatter about film, nothing on his print paper. But it would all be academic information at this
point. As much as I personally like and use the vastly improved VC papers on the market today, there is a kinda gap in how they handle those distinctly high key
overall nuances like Adams presented so eloquently (and which never seem to reproduce well in books etc). If you don't bring the print to completion with respect to development time, it's hard to get the same tone neutrality and optimized microtonality. I have my personal tricks like unsharp masking which work well with new papers like MG Cooltone. But in terms of papers and developers alone, I sure miss the way some of the classic good ole graded papers behaved for these kinds of "all silvery - no deep black" challenges. I have a stash of 20x24 graded EMaks that is excellent for this kind of thing; but it's a discontinued paper. And I've got a brand new box of Ilfobrom Galerie graded, but won't open it till later in the year. This is my appropriate season for numerous remodeling chores while we're on water rationing anyway. RA could have used Ilfobrom himself for some of these prints, along with common developers like Dektol or Selectol Soft. But Polymax also gave analogous tones in certain developers and was popular at the time. Someone who has an analogous printing style is Mark
Citret; but I haven't bumped into him for quite awhile. Last I heard, he had stockpiled a lot of Polymax before it went down.

23-Jul-2015, 05:22
Thank you again Drew.


Kirk Gittings
23-Jul-2015, 06:43
I spent some time with him at his house and darkroom on a few occasions in the early 80's. He wasn't really interested in talking shop-just ideas about art. So I know nothing about his technique. He is probably the brightest mind I ever met in photography and down to earth and humble at the same time.

Drew Wiley
23-Jul-2015, 13:39
Rbt Adams is one of those people who make me despise what the web has done to the conversation. You see these little scenes of suburbia with the logo "New
Topographics", and plop, there he goes into that particular pigeonhole. Convenient enough. His actual prints say a lot more about light than nominal subject matter. But the nuance of that fact gets lost in translation. He's one of those "less is more" kinds of printers - eloquently understated. The web doesn't handle that kind of visual communication very well.

Chuck Pere
23-Jul-2015, 14:44
I looked in my copy of Cottonwoods. At the end it states that all photographs were shot on Tri-X and printed either on Oriental Seagull or Agfa Portriga paper. Can't say I love the photographs in Cottonwoods. Pretty matter of fact stuff. But since Robert Adams is a highly respected and educated photographer this probably means that I don't have the ability to understand them. We need an IMDB type website for photobooks with a similar type open question and answer forum. That sure works to explain movies I don't get.

23-Jul-2015, 14:49
The web doesn't handle that kind of visual communication very well.

It can. The issue is that preparing an image for the web is just like printing. It requires the same understanding of color and tonal values, and the same amount of care. Which is to say, most web images aren't as good as they could be.

When they're good, they're good, with the caveat that you can't control the monitor settings of the people looking at the pictures. But people likewise go into galleries wearing sunglasses ...

Edited to add:

the same issues come up with books. Photos in books can be stunningly good but often aren't. Some of R.A.'s older books (at least the editions that I picked up used) don't do his work great justice. But I love my copy of cottonwoods. One of my faves. It's indeed a very quiet, subtle thing.

Drew Wiley
23-Jul-2015, 15:33
OK, Paul. Let's hear your Handl symphony on a kazoo and gut bucket. The web simply doesn't have the tonal ability. Nor the scale. Nor capacity for detail. And certainly not the color gamut by a long country mile. And monitors differ widely. I doubt that even 10% of my prints could be given a reasonable suggestion on the web. Sure, one can punch up the contrast of Rbt Adams prints to give them apparent life on the web, but that ruins all the nuance. If someone has a helluva big budget then maybe a book can do justice. Like I've said before, if I had the opportunity to see just one genuine VanGogh painting in my entire life versus every
single piece he ever did on the web, I'd choose the former. But we both appreciate Adams, and probably in a similar manner, so I'll leave it at that.

23-Jul-2015, 16:15
I know, Drew, your work is so special that no medium yet devised can do it justice.

Luckily most of us have it easier. I was pleasantly surprised by how well my black and white work translated to the web years ago. This is work that I fussed over like a nutcase in the darkroom. I had trepidations about the web for a long time. But I figured out that if I started with a negative scan, and re-did the darkroom work in PS, I could get fantastic looking results.

Now that I work digitally it's even easier, because my prints and my web images start from exactly the same file. Gamut issues are not a big deal, unless your work is really about intense, super-saturated colors. Mine isn't. Most of my stuff falls reasonably within the gamut of a decent monitor. And the software gives a lot of control over how out-of-gamut colors are handled. If your work is actually ruined by a spec of purple desaturating a bit, I wonder what the work is really about.

I'm probably not alone these days in that my work will make it onto the web before I've made a single print. So the web images are actually the starting point. I'm making a print for a customer right now, purchased based on the web. I know that it needs to be a lot better than it is now for a 27x40" print, so I've spent the last two days fussing over it. The customer's going to get a print that looks better than the web image, but not because of limitations of the medium—it will be because I'm putting a lot of work into making it as good as possible. I did the web image in just an hour or so.

Drew Wiley
23-Jul-2015, 16:25
Now you are outright insulting my intelligence, Paul. And you clearly don't understand what is meant by gamut. I'm not talking about the gamut of the kazoo, the
web, but of what I'm hope to reproduce. My gosh. Put two and two together. Look where I live. If I wanted reproduction in better quality than you've ever seen,
don't you think I'd have access to it? Well, maybe have seen things like that, but made right down the street from here and shipped to NYC as some museum
commission. Those guys know what I'm saying. We talk as equals. But maybe YOU charge more than their minimum setup press fee of 40K PER IMAGE? My web
designer handles some of the big Silicon Valley e-firms themselves. I'll get back together with him and past the Stone Age in a year of so. But damn few actual
images will be on that website. And gamut has far far less to do with intense saturated colors than subtle neutrals. It's hard enough to find film good at that.
The web is an outright abomination in terms of color repro quality, always has been.

23-Jul-2015, 17:08
Drew, you don't need me to insult your intelligence, but thanks for the credit.

But I believe it's you who ought to revisit the idea of color gamut. It isn't about subtle neutrals; it's 100% about the range of colors that can be reproduced. The only effect it ever has on subtle neutrals is when you use a large color space with inadequate bit depth. Like LAB or ProPhoto RGB with 8-bit color. But this shouldn't be an issue on the web, where most of use sRGB. If you think that the limited gamut of sRGB has any detrimental effects on subtle neutral colors, gradients, etc... you've been misinformed.

The web is indeed something of a jungle when it comes to color management. But it doesn't have to be. Some browsers respect color management. As do some photographers! If you look at my site in Safari, and your system is color managed, you're looking at the colors I intended. If you look at my site in Firefox with default settings, and have a high-gamut monitor, it will look as if God threw up. But so will the rest of the web. I'd rather get the work out there than worry about it being perfect for everyone, including people who don't care enough to to set up their systems properly.

Re: the rest of your post, press setup fees, etc... maybe you're responding to someone else, but you blew my continuity fuse.

[edited to ad: this is a stupid topic, while the original one, about Robert Adams, is worth people's time. I suggest we stop cluttering this further with irrelevant web shop talk]

Oren Grad
24-Jul-2015, 07:23
[edited to ad: this is a stupid topic, while the original one, about Robert Adams, is worth people's time. I suggest we stop cluttering this further with irrelevant web shop talk]

What Paul said.

But I love my copy of cottonwoods. One of my faves. It's indeed a very quiet, subtle thing.

This, too. As I'm sure is the case for most of us responding to most bodies of work, some of the pictures work better for me than others. Some of this may be luck of the draw with respect to sample variation in printing, but even then, one can see what he was trying to do. The overall sensibility resonates.

The work mixes formats - per the technical notes at the end of the book, Nikon with 28 mm lens, Hasselblad with 80 mm lens and Hasselblad Superwide, 4x5 Nagaoka with 135 mm lens. The presentation in the book is seamless, though. As the aspect ratios correspond to the native formats of the three camera types, it's likely that he's not cropping much and that one can reliably tell which format was used in each case, even though the reproduction process puts a ceiling on detail rendering and tonal subtlety that tends to homogenize, as does the consistent way of seeing. I think that there's really only one of them whose content is such that it pretty much needed to have been done with 35.

When exhibiting these pictures, I wonder whether his practice was to enlarge them to comparable overall sizes or in proportion to the original capture area. I know that some of these were included in his big retrospective at Yale. I'm embarrassed to say that how the selection from "Cottonwoods" was presented is one of the things I can't recall from my visit.

Drew Wiley
24-Jul-2015, 08:13
He did use a variety of cameras, including the Nakaoka. And I'd agree that he was probably not a cropper but tried to get the composition right the first time. He's talked about that too. Talked about film too. But I don't personally have any specific paper information, and surmise this just from the look of the prints, which of
course would not necessarily be the same over the course of his career. And unlike the books, all the actual prints I've seen were conspicuously large format shots
with lots of delicate understated detail and full plane of focus control.

Oren Grad
24-Jul-2015, 08:26
A footnote to my question about sizing: in the Cottonwoods book, the size at which the different pictures are displayed varies not just across but within capture formats. So at least in this particular book presentation, he's making decisions based on something about each picture.