Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 27

Thread: Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Posts
    108

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    I've just finished reading Ansel Adams's The Negative and Christopher James's The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes. Adams appears to have believed that a photographer should know with some precision, when he composes, meters and sets his aperture and shutter speed, what the eventual print will look like. That belief seems to underly the Zone System, at least in its full-blown cradle to grave/composition to print, methodology. In other words, implicit in the methodology is a philosophy about photography.

    One of the things that I find attractive about James's book is that the underlying philosophy of at least parts of it is much freer. This is particularly evident in his discussions about pinhole and Holga cameras. I also have the sense that many of the images in the book were created through a process of tinkering and experimentation. Reading his book reminded me of when I got my first chemistry set.

    How many people who participate in this forum make photographs in the deliberate and methodical manner that Adams prescribes? Is his apparent claim, that adoption of the Zone System largely eliminates unpredictability when making images with film, born out?

    For how many is the road from composition forward a process of tinkering and experiment that results, at the end of the day, in a print that was unforeseen, or only partially foreseen, at the outset. If you are in the latter category, is that a result of imperfect craft or a deliberate choice? If it is a choice, do you use the Zone System and, if so, what parts of it and for what purpose?

    If you use an alternative process, do you use some kind of Zone System equivalent? Is that even possible, given that a degree of unpredictability seems to be inherent in some alternative processes? Or is experimentation a central part of mucking about with alternative image capture (e.g. daguerreotypes) and alternative printing processes?

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    Halifax, Nova Scotia
    Posts
    443

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    I live in the world of the happy accident. I am fairly good at knowing what a colour transparency will look like but I need a lot more experience to accurrately plan a B&W shot.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Posts
    26

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    Rory, interesting question! The 2 examples you cite are certainly on the face of things, opposed views. I just finished the James book, and it got me out of the "Rocks And Rivers" rut I've been in for some years. James' book has many examples of artists' photographs, as opposed to "photographer's photographs". I have been making Solarplate photogravures recently, with an etching press, from large format negs of petroglyphs, and street scenes in Venice. Also have tried, and love, Ziatypes and kallitypes. The more one gets away from the strictures of the "conventions" of the Zone system, the more fun it is, and the more "handwork" there is in the processes. Judy Siegal's "World Journal of Post-Factory Photography" also brings a fresh dimension, where the artistic approach of crafting an image--not merely a faithful record in the AA sense of pre-visualization--is exemplified and given many avenues, techniques and resources. James' book is a treasure for those who may be feeling stale, or that their technique could stand some new avenues of expression.

  4. #4
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    USA, North Carolina
    Posts
    3,159

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    No one can tell you how to work. You have to decide what methods, or lack of methods, fit you, and allow you to make your art.

    Me? I am an Adams disciple. And yes, it works for me. I get very predictable, high quality negatives. I have been able to visualize what I wanted the final print to look like, perform acordingly, and get final prints that closely matched my vision. This, I think, is a good thing.

    The point of the Zone System, however, is not that it "largely eliminates unpredictability." The point is that it is a system you can use to get control of the mechanics of photography. The reason you want to do this is so that the craft (as he called it) becomes largely automatic - that you don't have to spend much time thinking about it. This leaves you free to concentrate on the art. And the art is the point, at least for me.

    You've gotta do what works for you though, so YMMV.

    Bruce Watson

  5. #5

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    You hit on a couple of important points. Adams defined the (now much abused) term "previsualization" to mean seeing in your mind's eye the final print as you determine exposure (the term has since been hijacked to anything from determining composition to digitally adding elements the photographer wished were there in the first place).

    The other important point is where, in the process, one is free to apply creative thinking and technique. I find the approach of a pre-determined output while in the field to be creatively limiting. Obviously I'll have some idea of what I'm trying to achieve, but often I'll find myself adjusting and experimenting further and printing in new ways as I learn from the experience of printing repeatedly until I "get it right" (something Adams himself is known for doing, which doesn't quite sit well with the whole "previsualization" theory).
    In that sense, digital tools can provide you infinitely more flexibility and creative options than any chemical process, traditional or alternative (and in a much better smelling environment . I believe this point is lost on many who believe that scanning a piece of film is a slippery slope towards reinventing a photograph, rather than a way of overcoming the limitations of chemistry.

    Guy

  6. #6
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    USA, North Carolina
    Posts
    3,159

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    not merely a faithful record in the AA sense of pre-visualization

    Kallitype, I think you miss the point of what Adams was doing. Few if any of his images are a "faithful record." If you were able to be at the scene with him at the time of exposure, and hold up the resulting print, the differences between scene and print would rock you. Adams' prints can hardly be considered faithful to the scene.

    Bruce Watson

  7. #7
    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 1998
    Location
    Rio Rancho, NM
    Posts
    4,719

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    Excellent discussion topic, Rory. And, one with lots of room for individualism.

    Personally, I guess I use a "relaxed" version of the Zone System for landscapes and such - after first thinking about what is motivating me to make the photograph in the first place, and what details I want to capture in the negative. A loose pre-visualization, you might say. I might even expose several negatives concentrating on different interpretations of the scene through variations in exposure for different planned levels of development. (Film is cheap. It's getting there that is damned expensive.) I enjoy predictable consistency in the developed negatives.

    I am not, however, a particularly good note taker. So, by the time I start to print the particular negatives, the pre-visualizations may have become a bit fuzzy. Thus, while the score in the negative may be set, I enjoy discovering different performances in the prints.

    Commercial work, however, is far more precise, and aimed tightly at the preconceived objective of the image.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Location
    now in Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    2,260

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    The oft-forgotten point of the Zone System is to know what your materials actually do, so that you get to decide how your images will look. As opposed to the "I'm an artist so it's bound to be good whatever happens" approach... good photographs can happen either way. Understanding your materials always helps, it will just take longer if you don't.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Oct 2003
    Location
    NYC
    Posts
    102

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    Remember that Ansel developed the zone system after he had already developed his vision, subject matter etc. to a large extent. The zone system was a way for him to refine his work. Most people focus on techniques long before they have any photographic goals in mind whereas Ansel could have suceeded in making spectacular images even without his technical prowess due to his coherent vision and talent.

  10. #10

    Ansel Adams, Christopher James and Making Photographs

    Rory,

    from the technical point of view I simply expose my negatives after taking 1 incident light reading. No spotmetering to determn contrast etc, no push or pull development as I just rely on VC paper for that.

    from the artistical point of view I never follow "the rule of thirds" and similar, I also do not try to fit the picture into the negativ- or printformat: I select a composition and printsize (and dimension) that seems to be ok for the subject.

    Huib

Similar Threads

  1. ansel adams
    By james norman in forum On Photography
    Replies: 27
    Last Post: 23-Dec-2004, 22:38
  2. Ansel Adams at 100
    By Michael Pry in forum Announcements
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 6-May-2002, 05:26
  3. "Ansel Adams at 100" exhibit in SF
    By Kevin M Bourque in forum On Photography
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 3-Dec-2001, 23:09
  4. Ansel Adams
    By dan nguyen in forum On Photography
    Replies: 11
    Last Post: 27-Aug-2000, 03:59
  5. Who is this Ansel Adams guy anyway?
    By josh_560 in forum On Photography
    Replies: 19
    Last Post: 27-Jan-2000, 16:36

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •