PDA

View Full Version : Ansel Adams: Do you see a worm in this apple?



Heroique
21-Apr-2009, 15:26
Below is a shot by Ansel Adams I recently posted to another thread, but that got me thinking more about how divided I feel about it – so I thought I’d share my thoughts here, in hope of learning more from your reactions. :rolleyes:

(Ansel’s title is: “Student Group in Library, University of Rochester.” It appears with a few technical remarks in “The Negative,” chapter 7.)

As I mentioned, I think the photo shows a dazzling mastery of difficult lighting. Few but Ansel could blend natural light from a window – so harmoniously – with the artificial light of lamps. A brilliant performance.

What’s more, I think this lighting just happens to illuminate a composition with a highly complex and supremely enjoyable balance. Indeed, the longer you look, the more balance you discover:
– Social conversation vs. bookish concentration
– Friendly smiles vs. tightened brows
– Luxurious curtains vs. warm wood vs. slick glass
– Indoor décor vs. outdoor architecture
– Piney limbs vs. stony facades, etc.

To be a little more abstract, one might also point-out the symphonic balance of vertical lines (portico columns, book spines, lamp posts), horizontal lines (book shelves & window lattices) and graceful diagonals (tree limbs, hung curtains, furniture backs). Even key bright spots are served by darker backgrounds – and vice versa.

At risk of belaboring the point, I hope you also enjoy all the pleasing triangles – formed, for example, by the portico’s pediment, the sloping curtains, the lamp head + two talking heads. Even the lamp’s illuminated shade shares in the geometry.

The upshot: this photo is a technical and aesthetic masterpiece. :)

But is there a worm in the apple? :confused:

To find out, please allow me to set-aside the photo’s brilliant fireworks, and concentrate on a few of its less-visible traits.

The composition, I think, clearly implies certain assumptions – perhaps without Ansel’s conscious awareness – about the dominant role men, and submissive role of women. If this is true, one is certainly free to link such assumptions with the scene’s era (which I think is the 1950’s – does anyone know the year of the photo?). Others might say that if this assumption is there, it’s unacceptable in any time or place. Still others might argue that no such assumption exists – or even if it did, you wouldn’t be able to prove it.

I think it’s there. Examine the evidence:

This woman is at best a visitor, at worst an invader of this men’s club. (Check out the hunting scene above her head.) If she’s not, where is her book? Why does she seem to interrupt the reader in front of her, and disturb the reader nearest us? Now take a look out the window – at the world for which the students are presumably preparing themselves. With whom is this majestic, Greco-Roman architecture associated? Might you say it’s rooted (I might say floating) above the boys’ heads, like an eternal vision of past, present and future? The girl apparently shares no connection with it. Or if she does, perhaps it’s because she’s the librarian’s daughter, applying some flattery in a matrimonial quest. ;)

Yes, I think Ansel built this masterful composition on such assumptions. And I suspect he did so unconsciously – like so many other consummate artists, necessarily working from the materials and values of their times.

I also think that while it’s important to be aware of such issues, they’re less important than the stunning photographic achievement in front of us. Photography may contain biases in its material or presentation, but in the end, photographic art means itself – and necessarily subordinates the moral lessons or cultural assumptions it may contain, conscious or not. I think this photo will remain a masterpiece – perhaps a neglected one – despite ever-changing times. Do you?

Richard M. Coda
21-Apr-2009, 15:53
Please don't take this the wrong way, but I think you have read WAY too much into this photograph. If anything, doesn't it say exactly the opposite by the fact there is a woman in a men's club? That women had broken that barrier... now look, I'm starting to think too much. ;)

Was this a commercial assignment? if so, he photographed what he was told to.

Deane Johnson
21-Apr-2009, 15:55
If your interpretation of the photo is accurate, the photo would only be reflecting the mindset of the era more than 50 years ago. There would be no worm in the apple. Ansel often referred to his photos as the equivalent of his experience. If that were the experience of the day, then his photo would have reflected it. There is no social or political statement here.

Vaughn
21-Apr-2009, 16:33
I believe Ansel's wife owned and operated the Best Studios (the future Ansel Adams Gallery) in Yosemite Valley...not exactly the male-dominated mind-set you are implying here. The f64 group was not a men-only club.

But then I have heard of contempory photo historians claim that two women holding hands in a Victorian-age photograph meant that the two women were probably in a lesbian relationship.

All interesting speculation, but that is all it is, IMO.

Vaughn

Daniel_Buck
21-Apr-2009, 17:07
Please don't take this the wrong way, but I think you have read WAY too much into this photograph.

indeed, I think some times people can read way to much out of a photo, that wasn't originally intended. But, if that gives the viewer enjoyment finding what they want to find in the photo, all the better I suppose! :)

AFSmithphoto
21-Apr-2009, 17:12
I don' think that the interior lamp is the main light source for the interior portion of this photo. It appears to me, that a far more powerful source was positioned behind the woman's chair outside of the left side of the frame.

For one thing the woman's back is FAR brighter than her face, indicating a brighter light behind her than in front of her. You can also see some light spilling on the side of the mens faces which is closer to the lens, indicating that the light hiting them is not directly behind them, but about 30 degrees off of perpendicular to the lens on the camera left side.
Furthermore, examine the upper section of the arms of the womans chair. The one on camera left is in stark shadow, despite being directly in the path of light that the lamp would generate.
Finally, look at the books in the background. The highlights are on the left of their bindings, a tell tale sign of a light being raked across them from their left.

Merg Ross
21-Apr-2009, 17:21
1952. Two lights in cone reflectors, one bounce. This photograph was made while on assignment for the University of Rochester.

Nathan Potter
21-Apr-2009, 17:45
I have often thought that really good photographs tell more about the photographer than the photographic subject; but in this case the critique above may tell more about Heroique than Ansel. :)

Nate Potter, Austin TX.

Jim Galli
21-Apr-2009, 17:56
You forgot the everlasting struggle of wealth vss need. This pampered female is obviously trolling for a respectable well to do husband. Her filthy rich parents have put her in this situation for exactly this purpose. She'll wind up submissively married to some pompous ass politician that's getting serviced daily by call girls with your tax dollars. It's all George Bush's fault. Hey, is that class of '42 Geo?? Barbara, is that you?????

Mark Sampson
21-Apr-2009, 18:39
It's worth noting that Adams was, indeed, on assignment from the University of Rochester. Everyone tends to forget that he was a working professional photographer until long past what we think of as retirement age. The personal work that his reputation stands on did not pay his bills until he was in his seventies.
And it's foolish to judge a work by the standards of a time different than when it was created, or standards different than those of the entity that commissioned the work. It's likely that Adams' thinking about gender roles would have been typical of someone who came of age in the 1920s, but so what if it was? Certainly the 21st century critic can fill a whole career decoding and criticizing the social attitudes of 1950s academia... but to what point? The UofR still exists, those buildings still stand, the subjects in the photo have reached retirement age, and yes, attitudes, institutional and personal, have shifted from the male-dominated patriarchy of those days. It's worth noting that in the 1950s. women at the UofR had their own (old) campus across town, segregated from the men; so the woman in the picture is indeed a visitor. My aunt and uncle were both students there at around the time of these photographs (c.1953)- perhaps they remember the bearded photographer.

Heroique
21-Apr-2009, 18:39
I have often thought that really good photographs tell more about the photographer than the photographic subject; but in this case the critique above may tell more about Heroique than Ansel. :)

Nate Potter, Austin TX.

Thanks, Nathan. (Or, at least I think so… :p )

BTW, Ansel’s title “Student Group” confirms the woman is, indeed, a student – whose submissive portrayal here, though unfortunate, takes very little away from this very fine composition. Nor do I think her student status mitigates her portrayal as a "visitor-invader." I wonder where she is today... :rolleyes:

Frank Petronio
21-Apr-2009, 19:00
Married to a surgeon no doubt, that is why the women trudged or snuck over to the Men's side.

lenser
21-Apr-2009, 19:10
My appologies, Heroique. but I can't recognize a single political or social concept to criticise in this image.

If anything, the young woman seems to be the group leader as she talks with the one young man paying rapt attention to her words while the other is totally absorbed in his reading. In fact, from a body language point of view, she has the command of the image right down to her side by side feet instead of a more relaxed pose of crossed ankles, while both of the men are slouching in a more subservient posture.

Take a look at the compositional lines. The curtain leads to her. The perspective of the building leads to her. The line of both men leads to her. She is the only figure posed against a light background while the two men are against darkness. She is the tallest of the the three figures. She is the complete apex of this compositional triangle. Therefore her presence is the main point of attention and is the focus and theme in this image.

How can that possibly be interpreted as somehow denigrating or discriminating either to her or to women in general?

I'm afraid that I have to agree fully with Nathan when he suggests that your interpretation may have far more to do with your own political stances than with anything to do with the image.

And this is from me, a confirmed believer in much of what the Equal Rights Amendment calls for.

Sorry to jump on you, but please admire Ansel for what he has given us and not introduce an agenda that isn't there.

Lenser

Heroique
21-Apr-2009, 20:00
Sorry to jump on you, but please admire Ansel for what he has given us and not introduce an agenda that isn't there.

Lenser

Please, relax, no need to apologize. :) What you see, or I see, isn’t THE interpretation. They’re two interpretations. And I’m eager to here more of them!

And perhaps I should repeat what you may have missed:

“…but in the end, photographic art means itself – and necessarily subordinates the moral lessons or cultural assumptions it may contain, conscious or not.”

Chris Strobel
21-Apr-2009, 20:21
You didn't happen to study with Minor White did you?

;)

lenser
21-Apr-2009, 20:28
Hello again, and thanks for your reply.

No, I did not miss that statement and I do heartily agree.

Perhaps it is the perspective of my nearly six decades and the many years of frustration with the agendas and (to me, pointless) political polarizations in this world that prompt my reactions, but I simply resent the application of any social inerpretation onto a piece of art that does not have an inherent agenda.

To me this is the same as politicizing a Van Gogh landscape or a Vermeer portrait. I don't see the point in clouding the beauty and the technique.

Works intended to foster debate or rage as Picasso's Guernica; or adoration as the religious paintings of Michelangelo or Titan are quite another topic as they are designed to provoke a very strong discussion and point of view.

Please accept that I certainly respect your right and ability to think in any direction you see fit, I just dont find this particular application to have merit or indeed any point in the way that I view this particular image.

What ever the perspective, I am delighted to enjoy this image with you and to continue to enjoy and be lost in Adams' wonderful work.

Tim

MIke Sherck
21-Apr-2009, 20:32
Wow, this is why I take photographic criticism with a very large grain of salt. I think that Ansel wasn't the only one making assumptions here; is it possible that your predjudices and assumptions have colored your appraisal of the photograph?

Whatever meagre clues the photograph gives seem to me too few to justify your opinions on sexual inequality, oppressiona, and submission/dominance. I'd be curious to learn the reasons for your rather harsh judgement?

Mike

cowanw
21-Apr-2009, 20:36
"As I mentioned, I think the photo shows a dazzling mastery of difficult lighting. Few but Ansel could blend natural light from a window – so harmoniously – with the artificial light of lamps. A brilliant performance."

Ansel worship reaches a new height.
I am not usually so negative, but, I am wondering why, off all the great photographers in history, it's Ansel's this or Ansel's that.
The lighting does the commercial job. However it violates the explanable source concept and I do not think it has the edginess to break the rule.
I would offer this one up to compare
http://cs.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?IRN=49391&View=LRG
Sorry, I guess I intuitively support the underdog and bristle at hero worship.
Regards
Bill

Heroique
21-Apr-2009, 21:06
I think that Ansel wasn't the only one making assumptions here; is it possible that your predjudices and assumptions have colored your appraisal of the photograph?

Mike

Yes, it is possible. Indeed, I know they necessarily do.

But this wonderful photo by AA "subordinates" whatever these prejudices and assumptions of mine may be.

It enjoys an independence of its own, and that's what really matters. ;)

Merg Ross
21-Apr-2009, 22:36
"As I mentioned, I think the photo shows a dazzling mastery of difficult lighting. Few but Ansel could blend natural light from a window – so harmoniously – with the artificial light of lamps. A brilliant performance."

Ansel worship reaches a new height.
I am not usually so negative, but, I am wondering why, off all the great photographers in history, it's Ansel's this or Ansel's that.
The lighting does the commercial job. However it violates the explanable source concept and I do not think it has the edginess to break the rule.
I would offer this one up to compare
http://cs.nga.gov.au/Detail-LRG.cfm?IRN=49391&View=LRG
Sorry, I guess I intuitively support the underdog and bristle at hero worship.
Regards
Bill

Bill, you make good points. The photograph in question is one of several hundred that Ansel produced while on assignment for the university. It displays the technical competence that is characteristic of his work; film, camera and lights. A professional photographer, delivering professional results. Beyond that, it is just a photograph, this time with the AA byline.

There are a number of participants in this forum that knew Ansel; I knew him pretty well for thirty years. I have immense admiration for him as a photographer and as a person.

Elsewhere on this forum, Gem Singer alluded to Ansel's role in bringing photograpghy to the forefront as an art form, and the schools, programs and grants that followed. Without Ansel, there may not be the interest in fine art photography that prevails today. This, at least, has been my feeling for many years. How many photographers appear on the cover of Time Magazine, or have an image on a Hill's Brothers coffee can, or participate in the "Buy a Datsun and plant a tree" program? Only Ansel. For me it is not hero worship, but I agree that for some it has become so.

As to gender, and since Ansel is the subject of this thread, I want to mention his wife, Virginia. From observation, Virginia played an integral role in Ansel's success. It was she who stepped down from her position on the Sierra Club's Board of Directors to raise a family. Ansel succeeded her on the Board.

Heroique
22-Apr-2009, 00:08
I may fall into the minority on two accounts in this thread – about the photo’s commercial merits, and about its artistic ones.

First, I may think less of this photo as a commercial assignment than most others (which I recognize is outside the scope of my original post). Indeed, on that score, I think it’s merely competent – and perhaps even less so. Some have mentioned skewed or funny lighting. I’ll even point to the speaking boy’s highlighted index finger, which shows some motion blur – very likely unintentional, perhaps even overlooked. Some clients may have found that unnecessarily distracting.

But more important than my thoughts about commercial merits, I think it would be fascinating if someone here could share the school’s own reception of the photo. What uses did they find for it? How well do they think it communicated key messages to its intended audiences? That is, did the photo fulfill the school’s objectives for it? I’d love to know more about these client considerations before sticking with my suspicion that its commercial merits are merely competent. The client’s thoughts may have been much more favorable than mine. In the end, the client is the one with that answer.

I may also fall into the minority on account of its artistic merits. I may think more highly of them than most others here. Never mind hero worship, never mind the cultural assumptions that I think are, indeed, there – I stand by my first appraisal: this photo is a masterpiece. For all the reasons I’ve already tried to list, and for many more reasons besides. Its unity screams down tiny disharmonies or failings. It obliterates the morality that I think it accepts about its era. And it will always remain bigger than its original commercial objectives.

Indeed, given time, I think this photo will grow in stature as an art work. More and more people will recognize its unique power. It will enjoy its day in the sun, like many of Ansel’s outdoor photos that deservedly enjoy so much fame today.

It may take some patient and passionate waiting, but I think it’s going to happen. :)

Michael Alpert
22-Apr-2009, 11:15
Heroique,

Thank you for your post. I think this competent photograph has importance only in an historical way. It does indeed portray the male students as more studious. As a document of its time, I think it has some worth. However, it is a deeply flawed composition. The lighting is fine for a commercial photograph, but the contrived and mechanically placed elements are hideous to my way of seeing. Adams really lacked aesthetic imagination as soon as he left the landscape subject-matter in which he was obviously comfortable. And even that subject-matter was photographed at least as beautifully by Carlton Watkins and others in the nineteenth century. I suggest that you look toward other photographers, including more contemporary European and Asian photographers, who both take greater risks in their work and offer images with deeper content.

SAShruby
22-Apr-2009, 12:02
OK, I'm back...

Ansel said it was purely a professional shot without any political tone. He wanted to "make a picture to sell new addmisions for University"

p.s. I just realized I jumped back 2 minutes earlier than I should...Oh dear!!!

SAShruby
22-Apr-2009, 12:03
OK,

Let's do it right way...
How about I just do a swift visit by jumping back with my time machine a ask him personally?

Deane Johnson
22-Apr-2009, 12:07
It does indeed portray the male students as more studious.

How do you know she wasn't smarter than the male students and had already finished her studies? How do you know they weren't struggling to keep up?


Adams really lacked aesthetic imagination as soon as he left the landscape subject-matter in which he was obviously comfortable.

Don't you mean he delivered what the client required on his commercial assignments? Then, he delivered what he required on his landscapes?

Michael Alpert
22-Apr-2009, 13:13
How do you know she wasn't smarter than the male students and had already finished her studies? How do you know they weren't struggling to keep up?

Don't you mean he delivered what the client required on his commercial assignments? Then, he delivered what he required on his landscapes?

1) Any photograph is subject to differing interpretations. It is customary to portray serious students with their heads in books; less serious students are often shown socializing. The underlying message may have been unconscious, and I am sure it was not maliciously meant, but it is quite clear.

2) No. I am not just responding to this photograph. I feel that Adams was an excellent but very limited photographer. If you consider the history of the artistic photography, including photographers from outside the U.S., his photographs look less like the works of a genius and more like the works of a fine craftsman. I respect much of his work, but I feel that he was too guarded, too unclear about his inner life. Another way to express this is that I see Adams as a performing artist, at heart a pianist, with all the qualities and limitations of an artist who does not generate new ideas, who is not (to extend the metaphor) a composer. I realize that my viewpoint is that of one individual, but in this matter of aesthetic judgement I do not think that I am being arbitrary.

nathanm
22-Apr-2009, 13:50
Looks like the worm in the apple is that tacky lamp. I would've spun that around, assuming there was no picture on the other side.

Thankfully nowadays we don't have to go to all the trouble Ansel did. Now we can just take 12 exposures and get that bright outside window light to blend in with the indoor light, plus we can get HUGE contrasty halos around the edge of every object! Sweet!

cowanw
22-Apr-2009, 14:30
Thank you, Mr Ross for such a kind reply.
I was indeed being petty and did not, for a second, intend to diminish the value of Ansel's contribution.
It was just that one phrase, "Few but Ansel could blend natural light from a window – so harmoniously – with the artificial light of lamps. A brilliant performance."
That stuck in my craw.
Because to inpute mastery to this particular photo diminishes the real brilliance of his work.
I am also not that fond of Steichen's beloved shadblow tree and I really don't like some of August Sanders darkroom work.


...I set this aside for the day to think about it and the discussion has passed on.

...In fact, now that I think about it, the language of the OP is so over the top it may be our legs are being pulled.
Kindest Regards
Bill

Kirk Gittings
22-Apr-2009, 14:31
Thank you for your post. I think this competent photograph has importance only in an historical way. It does indeed portray the male students as more studious. As a document of its time, I think it has some worth. However, it is a deeply flawed composition. The lighting is fine for a commercial photograph, but the contrived and mechanically placed elements are hideous to my way of seeing. Adams really lacked aesthetic imagination as soon as he left the landscape subject-matter in which he was obviously comfortable.

Thank you Michael, My thoughts exactly.

Struan Gray
22-Apr-2009, 15:05
Adams' picture is entirely in keeping with much other 50s lifestyle photography and illustration I have seen, so much so that it's hard to see anything original in the image: the only possible source of punctum is the lampshade. For me though, it's hard to turn that observation into a critique of Adams as a photographer, or as a person.

University brochures are strange things, and do not in any way depict a representative normality. The women in our department have learned to hide behind the ethnic students when the photographer comes round, as it's the only way to avoid ending up in the next brochure.

The picture is by Bernie Fuchs and comes from the excellent Illustration Art blog (illustrationart.blogspot.com)

Deane Johnson
22-Apr-2009, 15:37
I'm still trying to locate the apple with the worm in it.

Some posters have wanted to be critical of the way the female was portrayed, but if you think about it, putting her in a setting of higher learning was actually reasonably progressive for the era. In 1952, most women were shown in a kitchen setting making cherry pies.

Heroique
22-Apr-2009, 17:45
...In fact, now that I think about it, the language of the OP is so over the top it may be our legs are being pulled.
Kindest Regards
Bill

No legs being pulled – but many red buttons seem to have been pushed. ;)

And a lot of useful comments have bubbled-up – which was my hope. Especially ones about Ansel’s professional lighting efforts. Yet, I wish the experts among us could make better than general judgments on this score. Of course, that would require more information from the University of Rochester – not only the school’s instructions to Ansel, but how well the school thought Ansel’s photo met them.

For example, did the school ever actually use this photo? Or did they – upon reviewing the final “product” – decide not to? Any historians among us? Knowing this would greatly add to my understanding of Ansel’s client assignment – even his professional aptitude while working indoors.

Now, if I take a step back from these professional dissections, I still see a masterpiece.

Yes, the flaws of professional lighting, the scene’s implicit social assumptions – plus additional “worms in the apple” that posters have validly identified – they’re present, and additional ones may be accounted for. But if they survive the photo’s greater unity and impact as an art work, I think they’re also greatly reduced by them. Indeed, many of them vanish.

It may be worthwhile to consider a third important dimension to this photo (in addition to its commercial & artistic merits) – that is, as an illustration to educate. That’s why it appears in “The Negative,” after all. As for me, I can thank the photo for learning a little more about the zone system on those pages. :)

Mark Sampson
23-Apr-2009, 05:46
If you're really interested in the details, contact the George Eastman House. There was an enormous Adams retrospective show there last year, and on display were several prints from that assignment, along with letters back and forth, the original contract, etc. I can't remember off-hand if the subject of this thread was shown, but I believe that GEH owns a set of prints from the assignment; Beaumont Newhall, then the director, was instrumental in geeting Adams the job. And Adams was generous in his gifts to GEH; although in the '50s photographs as art weren't valuable like today.
I'd also suggest that you find a copy of the "U.S. Camera Annual" for 1954, which contains a portfolio of the UofR work (along with some other good work).

Marko
23-Apr-2009, 08:42
I'm still trying to locate the apple with the worm in it.

Some posters have wanted to be critical of the way the female was portrayed, but if you think about it, putting her in a setting of higher learning was actually reasonably progressive for the era. In 1952, most women were shown in a kitchen setting making cherry pies.

I think you may have just located it with this statement - most posters seem to take the photograph out of the context of its time along with all the inherent limitations and critique it from the contemporary POV. Contemporary in this case including a large dose of political correctness, the kind that Struan hinted at.

Contrived it may be but not more so than most if not all today's commercial/advertising images are. Except that it aimed to sell education instead of some consumable of the day or the other, which may be another statement about respective periods.

neil poulsen
23-Apr-2009, 09:22
I can visualize the scene now; post-visualization, of course.

Ansel says . . .

"Tell you what, you sit here." (In foreground.) "Hmm, what will you do? I know, you can be reading this book!" Ansel grabs a book off the shelf.

"Now, as to you two, you sit here, and we'll have the lovely young lady sit just opposite in that chair there. Hmmm, let's move that chair a bit. There."

"I better set up the camera. I think just about right here. That gives a nice framing of the building in the window. I like that."

Etc.

neil poulsen
23-Apr-2009, 10:07
To take things a little more seriously, I like this photograph, but I don't think it's a masterpiece. For example, I like the highlights in the photo, off the books in the background, off the faces, etc. You can bet that there was some detail in the highlights in the original image. The setting is well-balanced and comfortable. This image takes full advantage of the silver palette. One would expect nothing less from Ansel Adams.

As to matching the inside and outside, that's a matter of waiting until later in the day, when it gets darker outside. Given that it looks even a bit gloomy outside, and dark, it appears to me, that's what was done.

Heroique
23-Apr-2009, 15:06
You didn't happen to study with Minor White did you?

;)

Wish I could offer more – I was always in the principal’s office.


If you're really interested in the details, contact the George Eastman House. There was an enormous Adams retrospective show there last year, and on display were several prints from that assignment, along with letters back and forth, the original contract, etc. …I'd also suggest that you find a copy of the "U.S. Camera Annual" for 1954, which contains a portfolio of the UofR work (along with some other good work).

These are super leads, thank you. They may well be worth a layman’s scholarly research. (Now I regret all that time with the principal.)

And it would put our comments about Ansel’s professional indoor efforts here in a more suitable context. It may even provide some tantalizing evidence for the implied social assumptions under discussion…

Deane Johnson
23-Apr-2009, 15:55
It may even provide some tantalizing evidence for the implied social assumptions under discussion…

You're having a hard time catching on aren't you. There are no implied social issues in this photo. The political correctness nonsense came along years later.

lenser
23-Apr-2009, 16:31
Here, here, Deane!!!! The political correctness posturing is the greatest contrivance of all!!

I like to go back to the great little book, "Everything I needed to know , I learned in Kindergarten" only add that and a bit of Sunday school emphasis on the Golden Rule and political correctness seems quite out of place.

To emphatically concur with what you said, "There are no implied social issues in this photo!"

Allen in Montreal
23-Apr-2009, 18:31
1952. Two lights in cone reflectors, one bounce. This photograph was made while on assignment for the University of Rochester.


I looked at this image for a little while wondering where he placed what.
Thank you sir.

Heroique
23-Apr-2009, 21:26
A quick sidebar in view of recent remarks…

The moment I posted this thread, I started looking over my shoulder for the PC police, expecting to be pulled over and arrested – mainly because my thoughts about “School Group in Library, University of Rochester” are so Anti-PC – and stridently so.

Yes, I think the work clearly contains many social assumptions of its time – expressed perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously.

PC would begin with such a step.

But I also believe these assumptions are (correctly) reduced – and even vanish – in the shadows of this photo. (Or in the shadows of any fine art work.) That is, this photo enjoys an aesthetic independence that subordinates the social assumptions that it necessarily makes about its own time, including more “modern” ones that I may think I have. It means only itself.

And this is where PC fears to tread.

If I had the privilege of applying a label to my own thoughts – and took care to be as accurate as possible at risk of over-simplifying – it would be: “Art for art’s sake.”

And there could be no more inimical phrase to PC.

In any case, I hope the thread continues to provide enough elbow room for more views than just mine about this neglected photo :) :



The composition, I think, clearly implies certain assumptions – perhaps without Ansel’s conscious awareness – about the dominant role men, and submissive role of women. If this is true, one is certainly free to link such assumptions with the scene’s era [1952]. ...Others might say that if this assumption is there, it’s unacceptable in any time or place. Still others might argue that no such assumption exists – or even if it did, you wouldn’t be able to prove it.

Jim Banks
23-Apr-2009, 22:46
If you've read much about Ansel, or have seen any of his interviews, it is very clear that he saw a huge difference between his commercial work (assignments from without) and his personal work (assignments from within). I can't imagine him thinking of this image as any more than a competent photo produced on assignment that illustrates a concept he wanted to address in his chapter on artificial lighting.

Heck, he even addresses how the photo could have been improved in its caption. "Careful shielding of this last light would have added to the illusion of reality; the only part of the image that is not convincing is the extreme left-hand part of the chair and the obvious backlighting of the girl."

That's not to say others are wrong if they consider this a "masterpiece", but I doubt very much that he would consider it one.

walter23
23-Apr-2009, 23:50
If your interpretation of the photo is accurate, the photo would only be reflecting the mindset of the era more than 50 years ago. There would be no worm in the apple. Ansel often referred to his photos as the equivalent of his experience. If that were the experience of the day, then his photo would have reflected it. There is no social or political statement here.

I agree. Furthermore, I wholly disagree with the statement that "this is unacceptable at any time or place". It is almost entirely impossible for anybody to think outside of their culture and experience, and that includes you and me. 99.999% of the time we're just regurgitating thoughts and things that have entered into us through our upbringing and sensory experience of the world; you have to be exposed to an idea before you can have it, in most cases!

walter23
24-Apr-2009, 00:12
I don' think that the interior lamp is the main light source for the interior portion of this photo. It appears to me, that a far more powerful source was positioned behind the woman's chair outside of the left side of the frame.

That was my thought as well. There's some setup lighting here.

Vlad Soare
24-Apr-2009, 02:05
Of course the male has a dominant role in this picture, and that for a simple and obvious compositional reason. Both men have been placed on the right side of the frame. Viewers tend to perceive objects on the right side as more important and "heavy" than objects on the left side. That's why in all commercials the "regular detergent" is shown on the left side, while "the new, improved, Fairy/Mr.Proper/whatever" is shown on the right. It's basic compositional theory. If you flip the picture horizontally you'll perceive the woman as being more important than both men together.

So what? I have no problem with that. Let's not fall into dogmatic political correctness. I agree that women should have the same rights as men and not be treated as inferior to men. I'm all for gender equality. But to criticize an art piece on political correctness grounds is just too much. What should Ansel have done? Should he have placed the men on the left and the woman on the right, to give her more importance? That would have still been politically incorrect - after all, why should women be more important than men? We want gender equality, not reversed inequality, don't we? Should he have spoiled the composition simply to satisfy the feminist police half a century later? Come on... :)

Come to think of it, I think I can interpret this picture in such a way as to please women, too. Although the men are on the right side of the frame, which intrinsically gives them more weight, Ansel still had to use two of them in order to counterbalance one single woman. ;) So, does it pass the political correctness test now?

No, I don't see any worm in this apple. :)

clay harmon
24-Apr-2009, 05:15
Am I the only one who sees the sly, radically transgressive nature of this photograph? Rather than being way behind the curve, Ansel cleverly used what is clearly a transgendered person to speak to the soon-to-be crumbling perquisites of strictly male dominated society. Why else would be so impishly put a transgendered person in the chair talking to the two lovers on the right? The view of the building just outside the window is cleverly rendered in faint zone VI and up tones, implying the fading power of the phallocentric power structure so wonderfully symbolized by the columns on that same building.

In short, this is not some regressive throwback giving obeisance to existing power relationships, but rather a radically forward looking reference to the fleeting primacy of 1950s WASPish social dominance. Ansel was a visionary, to be sure. How else can you explain the reference to 'Brokeback Mountain' in his use of that particular lampshade? I say Ansel was a prophet, and his iconoclastic destruction of the signs and symbols of his contemporaneous power structure makes him a moral giant rubbing shoulders with the likes of Gandhi.

mandoman7
24-Apr-2009, 06:10
I see this photo as another case of a photographer getting wound up in his technique, and possibly losing sight of the marketing objective.
While it takes a little time to get window light balanced with the studio lights, there are thousands of commercial photographers doing it every day. This shot has a very nice softness and presence to the interior lighting, and the outside view is quite perfect in the selected angle. It is clearly a very well lit photograph.
But what is the idea that is driving the photograph? What does the conversation have to do with the outside scene? Why is there somebody in the foreground who's not paying attention? What does the main focal point of the photo, the lamp shade, have to do with anything?
Let's say the point is that informality can occasionally achieved among the grandeur. Well, is that idea best conveyed with 3 models and 2 or 3 hours of lighting setup, or can one good model with a prop do the job? Why such an elaborate setup if the idea has something to do with informality in the first place?
My admiration of Ansel has to do with his early work in the mountains and the clarity of his teaching. There are many other photographers who really did incredible work with people and interiors, and their placement as it relates to the idea that's being conveyed. I would say that Ansel's strengths were in the area of reacting to a scene more than in the arrangement of one. Different types of photogs.

MIke Sherck
24-Apr-2009, 07:37
Am I the only one who sees the sly, radically transgressive nature of this photograph? Rather than being way behind the curve, Ansel cleverly used what is clearly a transgendered person to speak to the soon-to-be crumbling perquisites of strictly male dominated society. Why else would be so impishly put a transgendered person in the chair talking to the two lovers on the right? The view of the building just outside the window is cleverly rendered in faint zone VI and up tones, implying the fading power of the phallocentric power structure so wonderfully symbolized by the columns on that same building.

In short, this is not some regressive throwback giving obeisance to existing power relationships, but rather a radically forward looking reference to the fleeting primacy of 1950s WASPish social dominance. Ansel was a visionary, to be sure. How else can you explain the reference to 'Brokeback Mountain' in his use of that particular lampshade? I say Ansel was a prophet, and his iconoclastic destruction of the signs and symbols of his contemporaneous power structure makes him a moral giant rubbing shoulders with the likes of Gandhi.

:p You win! And, thanks!

Mike

Paul Fitzgerald
24-Apr-2009, 08:15
"In short, this is not some regressive throwback giving obeisance to existing power relationships, but rather a radically forward looking reference to the fleeting primacy of 1950s WASPish social dominance. Ansel was a visionary, to be sure. How else can you explain the reference to 'Brokeback Mountain' in his use of that particular lampshade? I say Ansel was a prophet, and his iconoclastic destruction of the signs and symbols of his contemporaneous power structure makes him a moral giant rubbing shoulders with the likes of Gandhi."

"You win! And, thanks!"

Agreed and thanks.

Heroique
25-Apr-2009, 09:23
What’s more, I think this lighting just happens to illuminate a composition with a highly complex and supremely enjoyable balance. Indeed, the longer you look, the more balance you discover.

…And now I’ve had a chance to look a little longer – Wow.

Below are four different ways to see some of the FIREWORKS I mentioned in my impassioned opening post.

Take care, shield your eyes. :cool:

I like the triangles best – because they help illustrate the human dynamics I think are there, spoken and silent. (But perhaps I was most surprised by the tree’s diagonals.)

It’s important to say I don’t think I’ve “added” any lines; I’ve only highlighted lines already there. One might have identified different ones.

Plus, this is merely a quick study of lines. The examples don’t really address other critical issues – such as lighting, space, silver palette, perspective, etc., etc.

But perhaps they’ll hint at the pleasing & masterful unity I’ve sensed in this photo – this too-long-neglected photo. (Heck, I’ll say “masterpiece” again.)

It’s much more than just another dreary afternoon in the school library. ;)

dazedgonebye
25-Apr-2009, 10:12
…And now I’ve had a chance to look a little longer – Wow.

Below are four different ways to see some of the FIREWORKS I mentioned in my impassioned opening post.

Take care, shield your eyes. :cool:

I like the triangles best – because they help illustrate the human dynamics I think are there, spoken and silent. (But perhaps I was most surprised by the tree’s diagonals.)

It’s important to say I don’t think I’ve “added” any lines; I’ve only highlighted lines already there. One might have identified different ones.

Plus, this is merely a quick study of lines. The examples don’t really address other critical issues – such as lighting, space, silver palette, perspective, etc., etc.

But perhaps they’ll hint at the pleasing & masterful unity I’ve sensed in this photo – this too-long-neglected photo. (Heck, I’ll say “masterpiece” again.)

It’s much more than just another dreary afternoon in the school library. ;)

Wow, just...wow.

cowanw
27-Apr-2009, 05:42
For a somewhat more validated line maker you might try
http://photoinf.com/Golden_Mean/Eugene_Ilchenko/GoldenSection.html
Regards
Bill

monkeymon
27-Apr-2009, 09:51
All those triangles and pyramids, Ansel was a black belt Freemason? Probably trying to communicate with his aliens lords.

Michael Alpert
27-Apr-2009, 11:01
Heroique,

I can see that your affection for this photograph and photographer will not be clouded by reasonable dissent. You were looking for a hero, and you have found one. AA is probably the safest hero in the history of photography, but that is perfectly okay. Sometimes life is stranger than strange. In aesthetic matters, tangential points of view are acceptable. In other arenas, I find the whole mindset that searches for heroes and "masterpieces" to be troubling. It is the immature absolutist mindset that made much of the twentieth-century so violently contentious. Still, the subject under consideration allows for difference; and we each contribute to the richness of photography through our various standards, interpretations, and biases.

mandoman7
27-Apr-2009, 11:15
Heroique,

I can see that your affection for this photograph and photographer will not be clouded by reasonable dissent. You were looking for a hero, and you have found one. AA is probably the safest hero in the history of photography, but that is perfectly okay. Sometimes life is stranger than strange. In aesthetic matters, tangential points of view are acceptable. In other arenas, I find the whole mindset that searches for heroes and "masterpieces" to be troubling. It is the immature absolutist mindset that made much of the twentieth-century so violently contentious. Still, the subject under consideration allows for difference; and we each contribute to the richness of photography through our various standards, interpretations, and biases.

You've got to get past the heroes to find your own voice, if that's going to happen. Appreciation is a very good beginning for the journey, but mimicking the tools and vision of a creative artist does not make you a creative artist. A lot of people have difficulty moving beyond hero worship to finding their own thing. I've found myself going into the field with someone else's idea in my mind many times. We can't all be Van Gogh's, I guess.

Paul Kierstead
27-Apr-2009, 11:53
The composition, I think, clearly implies certain assumptions – perhaps without Ansel’s conscious awareness – about the dominant role men, and submissive role of women. If this is true, one is certainly free to link such assumptions with the scene’s era (which I think is the 1950’s – does anyone know the year of the photo?). Others might say that if this assumption is there, it’s unacceptable in any time or place. Still others might argue that no such assumption exists – or even if it did, you wouldn’t be able to prove it.


I'm not really sure what you are getting at. First off, a single picture is not representative of all people, and there most certainly isn't evidence that it was intended to be (unless the caption "people of earth" was just outside of this reproduction). Some men are dominant, and some women are submissive. And, of course, the reverse. However, since when should a photograph represent all possibilities, or even the way we think things should be? It is what it is; either a found or constructed scene presented as (hopefully) the photographer envisioned it. I don't see why it should reflect a social ideal, or even reality in the main.

sun of sand
28-Apr-2009, 13:42
It's obvious Ansel stole from Mondrian

CP Goerz
28-Apr-2009, 14:10
This was a 'commercial' shoot, more than likely there was an art director/storyboard to follow and Ansel was merely the tool for putting that 'image' on film. I highly doubt that Ansel walked around the campus and came up with the ideas for the shots himself but am more than willing to be corrected.