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cyrus
19-Apr-2012, 11:24
In mediaval times, the trades were controlled by guilds, which classified tradesmen as either apprentices, journeymen or masters. To gain admission to the guild as a master, tradesmen had to submit a piece of work -- a "masterpiece" -- which showed that they had achieved the level of formal, technical skill and knowledge to be considered a master. These were usually standarized items too. For example to be admitted to the guild of woodworkers, candidates were perhaps all expected to design and build fancy and creative tool cabinets.

I know that a comparison of tradesmen with artists may be imprecise, but I often wonder how this would apply to artists in general and photographers in particular. Unfortunately I am not sufficiently familiar with the development of the works of famous photographers over the course of their careers to be able to determine when they were judged to have crossed that line between journeymen and masters, but I suspect for example that in the case of Mapplethorpe, his flowers were his masterpiece even though he is better known for his erotic photography.

If anyone can provide some insights on the works of other famous photographers, which are considered to mark that time in their career when they were deemed to have become masters rather than journeymen, I would appreciate it. Or, how about yourself and your own work?

Bob Salomon - HP Marketing
19-Apr-2012, 11:53
And what would you do when you get to fields like portraiture, journalism, forensic, biological, wedding, architecture, legal medical, catalog, stage, aerial, mapping, etc?

Not every professional was in the same area of photography.

Karsh was every bit as much of a Master as Adams, but their work is very much different, as was Eisenstat's or Bourke-White vs Ulesmann.

When you include "standarized" into an art form it doesn't work.

A cabinet maker is a craftsman and if he is really good he could be an artist at his craft but can he build a house? Or want to? or want to be tested on how well he builds bookcases when he wants to build desks?

cyrus
19-Apr-2012, 12:12
Karsh was every bit as much of a Master as Adams, but their work is very much different, as was Eisenstat's or Bourke-White vs Ulesmann.

Very true but nevertheless, at some point in each of their specific careers, there came a time that they cross the line, as photographers producing photographs, from journeymen to masters. It would be interesting to be able to identify that time for each. I do realize that the analogy between a craftsman and an artist is weak. I'm not trying to compare Eisenstat to Ansel, but early Eisenstat the journeyman to later Eistenstate the master. When and how did that happen

Old-N-Feeble
19-Apr-2012, 12:57
I really don't think many "cross a line". It's more like climbing a mountain and then working hard to avoid being shove off. For the very lucky and talented that climb takes less time and effort than others.

Brian C. Miller
19-Apr-2012, 13:00
The marker is when a person derives full-time income from photographic production.

What dramatically separates Stephen Shore from any of us?
What dramatically separates William Eggleston from any of us?
What dramatically separates Alec Soth from any of us?

It isn't obvious mastery of the art form. Adams' photographs demonstrated freakin' mastery. Ulesmann's photographs demonstrated mastery. Just from looking at the pictures, would you immediately and definitively proclaim that Shore, Eggleston, or Soth are masters of photography?

Since you can't tell by looking at the photograph, the only thing to go on is income.

Jay DeFehr
19-Apr-2012, 14:43
The marker is when a person derives full-time income from photographic production.

What dramatically separates Stephen Shore from any of us?
What dramatically separates William Eggleston from any of us?
What dramatically separates Alec Soth from any of us?

It isn't obvious mastery of the art form. Adams' photographs demonstrated freakin' mastery. Ulesmann's photographs demonstrated mastery. Just from looking at the pictures, would you immediately and definitively proclaim that Shore, Eggleston, or Soth are masters of photography?

Since you can't tell by looking at the photograph, the only thing to go on is income.

Because income is the most obvious (to some) difference should in no way imply it's the definitive one. Your premise relies on your inability to see more substantial differences, but that hardly makes for a strong argument.

It should be noted that there were artist's guilds in addition to craftsmen's guilds, so the comparison is valid. The workshops of Campin and van Eyck more closely resembled those of tradesmen mass producing goods than the romantic ideal of a lone artist in his studio, obsessing over a single great work in a shaft of golden window light. The tradition of apprenticing, or assisting, as it's known today, is very much alive and well. A photographer assisting a more established one doesn't need the certification of his "master" to be admitted to a guild, but good references never hurt a budding photographer, and might indeed open doors leading to the establishment of an independent career. This model obviously doesn't apply to all, or even most photographers, but it does maintain the link to the old artist's workshop/ guild system.

Bob Salomon - HP Marketing
19-Apr-2012, 14:53
"Because income is the most obvious (to some) difference should in no way imply it's the definitive one. "

Income is directly related to marketing and PR skils of the photographer. Witness Peter Lik. Seems like very few admire his work here but who here would not like to have his income?

Vaughn
19-Apr-2012, 15:04
If anyone can provide some insights on the works of other famous photographers, which are considered to mark that time in their career when they were deemed to have become masters rather than journeymen, I would appreciate it. Or, how about yourself and your own work?

Instead of a single piece being one's "masterpiece", I would think that a body of work shown in a known gallery would be the mark of becoming a "master". In AA's case, showing at 291 would be his "masters work". Plenty of exceptions, of course.

A killer website, lots of comments on Flicker or self-published books are not.

Old-N-Feeble
19-Apr-2012, 15:31
First of all, had I a name like "Peter Lik" that's the first thing I'd change!! :rolleyes:

Secondly, that guy has made many images that are probably better than I ever made. :(

Brian C. Miller
19-Apr-2012, 15:36
With the Dada "movement," all artistic standards went out the window. Straight out. Some standards hit the sidewalk. Some hit the trash bin. Some standards are begging in the street.

Is Andreas Gursky a master photographer? Yes or no? According to the standards, the only measure is money. He is a master photographer because a print sold for $4.3 million dollars.
Is Peter Lik a master photographer? Yes or no?

There are guilds that still exist. One of them is the Piano Tuners Guild (http://www.ptg.org). If you ever have time, go and attend one of their meetings. These people care about quality like nothing else. Craftsmanship and excellence are everything. Tuning and maintaining a piano requires skill and craftsmanship. These people care, and will help each other out like I've never seen before. Quality is more than "job one," it's more like a way of being.

So what to do when there is no definition of quality? Art has no standards. None. Constructing a real chair has standards. Constructing a real instrument has standards. Constructing a skyscraper has standards. But art?

Why should Lik, Gursky, Shore, Eggleston, or Soth, be considered master photographers? What is the absolute measure of their mastery? How do you precisely differentiate between a novice Shore and a mature Shore? Was Duchamp a master artist?

With no standards, what does mastery mean?

It's not like the (shrinking) physical standard for the meter in Paris. Want to know how long a meter is? Go and measure the meter rod.

But what to do for art?

sun of sand
19-Apr-2012, 16:07
I think you become a master when you can say to yourself in all honesty that you are

Maybe sometimes a person will be 15 steps away out of 100 when they declare it and never therefore truly make it though they're still elite
Some only a few away and since nobody or not many can tell the difference they are ...with heated discussion
I'd think the few that wait till they're 8 steps beyond are the ones who become legends

all comes down to work ethic


i believe if you have a complete timeline of images/works to scan through you could tell when someone became a master
probably like a narrow 3-5 year window of intense work where the bridge can be found

MDR
19-Apr-2012, 16:55
In Austria and I believe in Germany as well there are two ways to become a pro photographer who has the right to call himself pro photographer the first is to do an apprenticeship become a "Geselle" = journeyman and later in order to be able to open your own shop you have to do a "Meisterprüfung" Master, the second way is to go to a photography school like the Graphische Lehr und Versuchsanstalt do your 4 years and get your degree. But you can at least at the Graphische do an additional two years in the Masterclass and you become a master. :) The Medieval system of journeyman and master and even Guilds is still alive in Austria and Germany.

Leigh
19-Apr-2012, 17:00
The old guild categories are still very much in use in the manual trades here in the US.

Quoting an old definition:
The apprentice learns the rules.
The Journeyman follows the rules.
The Master writes the rules, and knows when and how to break them.

I think that definition of a Master can be applied equally to a photographer. It's not enough to know the technology.

- Leigh

cosmicexplosion
19-Apr-2012, 17:12
are you looking for a formula, or an oasis in the desert that lets you know you have arrived?

i think if you have mastered your technical skill enough to let manifest your artistic vision, then you are a master.

but it is easy to get lost in this train of thought derailed by like and dislike of style. its not empirical.

but technical skill is nothing with out artistic vision, or creative imagination. play.

alot of photogs get stuck in the technical, and forget to be artists.

a lot of artists neglect the technical and get lost in themselves.

Mike Anderson
19-Apr-2012, 18:20
Is Andreas Gursky a master photographer? Yes or no? According to the standards, the only measure is money. He is a master photographer because a print sold for $4.3 million dollars.
Is Peter Lik a master photographer? Yes or no?
....

I don't think commercial success has much to do with "mastery" in the traditional sense of the word. Is Justin Bieber a master singer? Is Dan Brown a master of fiction?

cosmicexplosion
19-Apr-2012, 18:31
dan brown is a master of fiction.... i could not stop reading his book. well he mastered the art of hooking me into the story, amazing.

supposed masters, people like Umberto echo are intellectual tossers, who make very cleaver books that are actually boring to experience.

ok

just to save my self a little, john stienbeck, master, my favourite author.

Bill_1856
19-Apr-2012, 18:37
Cyrus, a really well thoughtout question. Thanks for posting it.
I never heard of Peter Lik, but the images on his website are certainly impressive. Is he R&F (rich and famous)? Why should I have heard of him?

Mike Anderson
19-Apr-2012, 18:57
just to save my self a little, john stienbeck, master, my favourite author.

Nice save. Steinbeck is a master.

rdenney
19-Apr-2012, 19:33
Since you can't tell by looking at the photograph, the only thing to go on is income.

You can indeed evaluate skill based on looking at photographs, and skill is the basis for progressing from apprentice to master. The masterpiece, in that ancient connotation, was an expression of skill sufficient to persuade the guild to permit the craftsman to teach others. This was the guild's accreditation process, and then as now it was a tool for limiting supply to keep prices high.

A journeyman had reached the point of providing the craft to the public for money, and it's meaning to the crafts is similar to "professional" in the learned professions. Even now, a professional must demonstrate something more than what is required to practice to be allowed to teach.

"Professional" has roots in "professing" to offer a service, and for licensed learned professions, offering a service to the public is evidence of professional activity, not being paid or being commercially successful.

So, we have credentials for teaching designed to limit supply, credentials for practice designed to maintain the reputation of the guild (that has morphed into protecting the public in recent times), and credentials to allow a person to receive advanced training.

We also have demonstration of skills, which should never be confused with a credential, though it may be required as part of the credentialimg process. We still expect potential customers to evaluate work product for themselves regardless of what's hanging on the wall.

The use of the word "art" to mean some inexplicable emotional quality or emotional effect seems to me a relatively modern innovation.

When did Adams become an artist? When he declared his intention that his photographs were art. When did he make good art? That's a debate for the ages. When did he become a master? When he perfected his craft well enough to reliably achieve his purposes, and also well enough to teach it. "Monolith" would be when Adams realized he could connect his objectives and his craft in purposed application of skill, but that's when he graduated from apprentice to journeyman in his own thinking--and it's also before he decided to become a professional. I think he became a master with the Zone System, and that to me is his masterpiece.

Rick "noting that the unskilled can produce great art once in a while, but paying them in advance is risky" Denney

cyrus
19-Apr-2012, 20:46
The old guild categories are still very much in use in the manual trades here in the US.

Quoting an old definition:
The apprentice learns the rules.
The Journeyman follows the rules.
The Master writes the rules, and knows when and how to break them.

I think that definition of a Master can be applied equally to a photographer. It's not enough to know the technology.

- Leigh

that's very useful for me to make my point clearer. I'm not particularly interested in how much money people make. I'm interested in when, artistically speaking, Ansel is judged to have broken that barrier you illustrate above between journeyman and master. Or Eisenstadt, or Weston, or Curtis etc. I wonder for example if each of them has a certain specific work which is widely agreed by critics and art historians to mark that point where each of these photographers crossed that line from journeyman to master. After all, Ansel wasn't ALWAYS a great photographer. There must have been a period of time when he took NOT SO GREAT photos, before he became a great photographer. So, aside from how much money etc. he made or didn't, was there a particular series of photos, or perhaps a particular single photo, that we can say marked that transition for Ansel, Curtis etc?

[As for Peter Lik: had never heard of him myself. His photos...are nice, but don't really do it for me. Looks like stock photography. Pretty sunsets and trees. Great. Yawn, imho]

rdenney
19-Apr-2012, 20:57
After all, Ansel wasn't ALWAYS a great photographer. There must have been a period of time when he took NOT SO GREAT photos, before he became a great photographer.

I think a lot of artists spend their lives living up to the days of their youth when their technique set a new standard and their vision was unique.

One of my favorite Adams photos is "Monolith", ca. 1927, when Adams was a 25-year-old unemployed concert pianist and a photographic hobbyist.

Rick "suspecting there was never a period after which Adams gained technical control when he made neither great photos nor not-so-great photos" Denney

Kirk Gittings
19-Apr-2012, 21:25
Income? No. I know all kinds of full time/income photographers that are technical and aesthetic idiots.

I have made my full income from photography since 1978 (....idiot?) and IMO that is not a measurement of much except determination and marketing. There are other things that have happened in the course that means much more-recognition by peers, publications, museum exhibits, being asked to teach at top universities etc.-much of which pays poorly (sometimes not at all), but has allot more mojo than earning a fulltime check from photography.

Wayne Lambert
19-Apr-2012, 21:46
Have you ever wondered about the title "master printer" so often seen in PR materials, workshop brochures, and exhibit descriptions? Who assigns that title? Probably impressive to the un-informed, but seems a little sleasy to me, being as how I am unaware of any such professionaly awarded designation. But, because there are no standards, I suppose anyone can call himself a "master printer."
Wayne

cosmicexplosion
19-Apr-2012, 21:53
even a master is at the mercy of the muse....

Merg Ross
19-Apr-2012, 22:12
I have known a few household name photographers over the years, and in unison, they would never accept such a term as "master photographer". That term is an outgrowth of the professional photographer associations (PPA comes to mind). They bestowed their members, the majority with less than mediocre vision, with all kinds of ribbons proclaiming them as "Master Photographers". Sorry to insult any of you PPA members, I was once a member also.

Being a master in an art, which I consider photography to have an elevated place, has very little to do with mastery of technique, as suggested by the analogy of the medieval system of apprentice and master. It still works today in the trades; plumbers, pressmen, carpenters -- you name it, but not the arts.

Take a look at some you may consider to be "a master photographer", and then look at their early work. You may find that they did their best and most creative work very early in their careers, and it was later that public acceptance and monetary rewards elevated them to "master photographers" in the minds of some. However, not necessarily in their own opinion or that of their peers. I knew a few of these "masters" and often, in their opinion, their best work was done before achieving the grand public acceptance.

Wayne Lambert
19-Apr-2012, 22:22
Interesting observations, Merg.
Wayne

Steve Smith
20-Apr-2012, 02:54
Is Andreas Gursky a master photographer? Yes or no? According to the standards, the only measure is money. He is a master photographer because a print sold for $4.3 million dollars.

Perhaps not but there was certainly a master salesman at work!


Steve.

Steve Smith
20-Apr-2012, 02:57
the first is to do an apprenticeship become a "Geselle" = journeyman

And you get some great clothes and hats!


Steve.

cyrus
20-Apr-2012, 06:44
But in any case at some point the Ansels etc. of the work "came to the attention" of the world of photo critics etc. at large. Was there a specific photo or series of photos that did this? I'm not talking about their most "popular" works -- just the ones that showed they 1- knew the rules and 2- knew when to break them. There must have been such a transition period in their creative development - when, how, why did that happen? That's what I'm curious about. At some point they transcended mere technical accomplishment in the craft, and broke some new barriers and "came into their own" as artists. That's something interesting and worthy of study. (But it could be entirely true that there was no such time and they were geniuses since childhood)

Jim Jones
20-Apr-2012, 07:53
I worked for a publisher for several years where the term "master printer" was clearly defined. Anyone who completed 10,000 hours of work for the company was awarded a master printer pin. This included janitors and even one supervisor whose main qualification in publishing was a degree in agriculture. I don't like the idea of money determining anything more than a master of business, although at this time of year publishing income tax returns may be a better indication of success and honesty than mere hours on the job.

Bob Salomon - HP Marketing
20-Apr-2012, 08:57
You mean those that do, do and those that don't, teach?

Leigh
20-Apr-2012, 09:15
You mean those that do, do and those that don't, teach?
I believe the saying is: "Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, administer."

- Leigh

Leigh
20-Apr-2012, 09:17
Was there a specific photo or series of photos that did this?
I was watching a rather lengthy video biography of AA a few weeks ago.

It suggested that his "inspirational moment" involved a shot of a particular rock outcropping at Yosemite,
when he realized that the photo would be much more dramatic if he used a red filter to darken the sky.

The biographer claimed that this was the moment that transformed his vision and his work.

- Leigh

Bill_1856
20-Apr-2012, 09:44
It's easy to name the exact image(s) which transformed several of our "heros" into Masters. With Ansel it is accepted to be the photographing of "Monolith," with Weston his pictures of the Armco facility, with Karsh when he pulled Churchill's cigar out of his mouth and shot him, with Gene Smith "Walk to Paradise Garden" after returning from WW2 just recovering from extremely serious wounds, Paul Strand the magic year of 1916 when he made "Wall Street," and "White Picket Fence," and perhaps his most ikonic image "Blind," Dorothea Lange, "White Angel Bread Line."
Cartier-Bresson, no single image, but from the moment he bought his first Leica.

Old-N-Feeble
20-Apr-2012, 10:10
My father, a professor at a university, quoted it as; "Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, teach teachers."


I believe the saying is: "Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, administer."

- Leigh

cyrus
20-Apr-2012, 12:59
It's easy to name the exact image(s) which transformed several of our "heros" into Masters. With Ansel it is accepted to be the photographing of "Monolith," with Weston his pictures of the Armco facility, with Karsh when he pulled Churchill's cigar out of his mouth and shot him, with Gene Smith "Walk to Paradise Garden" after returning from WW2 just recovering from extremely serious wounds, Paul Strand the magic year of 1916 when he made "Wall Street," and "White Picket Fence," and perhaps his most ikonic image "Blind," Dorothea Lange, "White Angel Bread Line."
Cartier-Bresson, no single image, but from the moment he bought his first Leica.

Thanks

Brian C. Miller
20-Apr-2012, 13:13
One of the main problems with figuring out the difference between a master photographer and an idiot with a camera is that the cameras have become rather highly advanced. Really, in how many arts and crafts can you find tools so automated? Automatic exposure was first, then came automatic focus. Now we are seeing the introduction of automatic scene detectors, e.g., the camera pops the shutter when the subject smiles. It won't be long before there is camera software to hint to the photographer where to move the camera to line it up according to what other famous photographers did. Yes, the Cartier-Bresson mode, the Winogrand mode, the Ansel Adams mode, etc. But you have to watch out for the Weegee mode, as you may wind up with a dead body in the frame.

There's a trend in China for newlywed couples to have the wedding photos Photoshopped, thus saving expenses. So did that marvelous shot result from a mastery of photography or a mastery of Photoshop? We have marveled at past photographs. But how about a future of synthetically enhanced photography, where wire-frame models are built from recognized objects, and then rendered later at the whim of the operator? The detail of a jacket's cloth may not be captured, but it could be digitally produced. A skyscraper could be photographed with a fish-eye lens, then rendered as being straight and tall with more detail than an 8x10. There's a fellow who Photoshops celebrities into his party pics (link (http://www.petapixel.com/2012/02/27/guy-photoshops-celebs-into-his-annual-holiday-party-photos/)).

When at the end you say, "Great photograph! How did you do that?" and the answer is, "Photoglobe 3.0 with the Reality v2.3 plugins," then what? Are the master photographers the ones who only used film? What about the photographers of the future who use Lytro-type cameras and software? Will they be masters or not?

Once upon a time it was easy to determine if a person had mastered a craft. Now, post-Dada, who can tell?

Heroique
20-Apr-2012, 13:19
It's easy to name the exact image(s) which transformed several of our “heros” into Masters. With Ansel it is accepted to be the photographing of “Monolith” ...

This got me thinking...


“I consider this [Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927] to be my first visualization,” AA says in his book The Negative, “seeing in my mind the image I wanted before making the exposure.” (i.e., using a red filter to express his visualization, since a yellow one wouldn’t do.)

A threshold to be sure...

But does one’s 1st visualization = the threshold of “Mastery”?

Drew Wiley
20-Apr-2012, 13:34
Bernie Madoff was a master investor, given the analogy of monetary success. So the distinction between a journeyman and a master would be the difference between Goodfellas and the Godfather. About the same game in the so-called art world.

Vaughn
20-Apr-2012, 13:35
I believe the saying is: "Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, administer."

- Leigh

Trying to reign in my inner Pollyanna, but being unsuccessful, I prefer:

Those who can, do. Those who understand, teach.

I guess those who can not and understand not, instruct -- which I feel is a lot different than teaching, but it is just a matter of semantics.

Old-N-Feeble
20-Apr-2012, 13:36
This got me thinking...


“I consider this [Monolith, The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927] to be my first visualization,” AA says in his book The Negative, “seeing in my mind the image I wanted before making the exposure.” (i.e., using a red filter to express his visualization, since a yellow one wouldn’t do.)

A threshold to be sure...

But does one’s 1st visualization = the threshold of “Mastery”?

Knowledge has nothing to do with mastery. I read a crap-load of photographic information very early on and would have known without ever taking a single photo the basic difference between the effects of differing filters on various types of films... mostly panchromatic. Hell, Adams could have achieved a similar affect at Half Dome by simply switching to ortho film with no filter... or minimal filtering.

Even back when I shot quite a bit I was never better than "pretty good". Well, better than anyone I'd personaly met but that wasn't saying much at the time. I would love to be called a "master" but that opportunity was lost a very long time ago. Now I just want to have a little fun and take some not-so-crappy photos. ;)

Bill_1856
20-Apr-2012, 13:38
This got me thinking...

But does one’s 1st visualization = the threshold of “Mastery”?

No, but the quality of the image does, and the fact that it was the first of many.

cyrus
20-Apr-2012, 13:43
. Now I just want to have a little fun and take some not-so-crappy photos. ;)

Words of a wise man!

Jay DeFehr
20-Apr-2012, 14:55
Knowledge has nothing to do with mastery. I read a crap-load of photographic information very early on and would have known without ever taking a single photo the basic difference between the effects of differing filters on various types of films... mostly panchromatic. Hell, Adams could have achieved a similar affect at Half Dome by simply switching to ortho film with no filter... or minimal filtering.

Even back when I shot quite a bit I was never better than "pretty good". Well, better than anyone I'd personaly met but that wasn't saying much at the time. I would love to be called a "master" but that opportunity was lost a very long time ago. Now I just want to have a little fun and take some not-so-crappy photos. ;)

Actually, switching from pan film to ortho would have the opposite effect of using a red filter with pan film. Maybe knowledge does have something to do with mastery?

Vaughn
20-Apr-2012, 15:11
Actually, switching from pan film to ortho would have the opposite effect of using a red filter with pan film. Maybe knowledge does have something to do with mastery?

I caught that, too. Just a brain-fart, probably. Those happen to us older guys. :o

Old-N-Feeble
20-Apr-2012, 15:44
Actually, switching from pan film to ortho would have the opposite effect of using a red filter with pan film. Maybe knowledge does have something to do with mastery?

Uhh... yeah, I did get that backwards. I confuse things sometimes. :o

Brian C. Miller
20-Apr-2012, 15:56
Orthochromatic film: sensitive to green and blue.
Panchromatic film: sensitive to red, green, and blue.

Color of sky: blue.

Shade of sky on print with no filter, either film: white.
Desired shade of sky: black.

It doesn't matter which film type would have been used as a filter was absolutely required to block the blue light. Look at the spectral sensitivity of Kodak HIE/HIR. Blue at one end, and red-IR at the other, and not sensitive to green at all.

There is no film that is strictly red-sensitive.

Drew Wiley
20-Apr-2012, 16:38
I've run into a few pasture bulls whose eyesight was apparently red-sensitive.

rdenney
20-Apr-2012, 17:08
I've run into a few pasture bulls whose eyesight was apparently red-sensitive.

Did you protect yourself with a blue filter, or with orthochromatic film?

Rick "a good reason to avoid those red bellows" Denney

Drew Wiley
20-Apr-2012, 17:13
I've climbed a few trees, what we call blue oaks out here due to the color of the leaves.
Maybe that explains it.

Bill_1856
21-Aug-2012, 10:08
Instead of a single piece being one's "masterpiece", I would think that a body of work shown in a known gallery would be the mark of becoming a "master". In AA's case, showing at 291 would be his "masters work".

Have you ever seen the book of images from that 291 show of Adams? I presume that the prints were beautiful, (or old Steiglitz wouldn't haven't shown them), but as images their content is all over the place -- actually the sort of thing that most photographers do when starting out. Sort of like a student end-of-term show for Photography 101. Nothing there to indicate that he would eventually become the outstanding landscape photographer that he evolved into.