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Thread: ansel adams

  1. #1

    ansel adams

    having frequented this forum for quite a while, i know there are many very capab le and knowledgeable professionals here. i do not wish to offend any of you, bu t for a long time, i have harbored a certain distaste for the famous ansel adams - perhaps some of you can alter my point of view with some additional informati on. while i certainly can appreciate adams technical acheivements, and recogniz e that he created many dramatic images, when i read his books, there is a defini te thread of ego-centrism in his words that i do not enjoy. his mention of dona ting negatives to universities so that "others can learn from printing his negat ives" was one of the first things that caught me very early on. but it was not until i started seriously studying the history of photography that i realized ho w many of his images were little more than deriviative interpretations of earlie r photographers' work. i understand that we all do that to a certain extent, bu t mr adams, in his dissertations on how he created this image or that, never see ms to mention that the same shot was made by timothy o'sullivan 60 years earlier , or that a certain view of yosemite was essentially a copy of an image made by carleton watkins in the 1870s. this lack of homage to the pioneers from whose e xamples adams created his best work is very disappointing, and smacks of a great inner insecurity. IMHO, there are many photogrpahers who earn far higher marks from me for sheer artisitic vision, compositional skill, and yes, even technica l prowess. consider eduoard baldus, gustave legray, carleton watkins, pascal se bah, etc, who endured the primitive technology of wet plate photography, hand ma de lenses and cameras, who carried hundereds of pounds of equipment to the remot est parts of the world to create images that have never been equaled since. i w ould be interested in hearing some alternate points of view, or references to an ything you might have read where ansel does indeed recognize the heritage of his craft.

  2. #2

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    ansel adams

    Everything we do is derivitave of someone elses work. How many artists doing impressionist work do you know who attribute Monet? I am not a huge fan of Adam's work, although there are many I consider to be masterpieces. I had the opportunity to meet him not too long before his death and found him to be both gracious and giving of his knowledge. A little known fact was that he was listed in the phone book, and, if you were stumped on a technical problem, he would accept phone calls from anywhere and anyone and try to help the photographer solve the problem being faced. History has already judged him to be one of the giants of photography and nothing will ever diminish that!

  3. #3

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    ansel adams

    You seem to discount that Ansel is human and has all of the faults that come with that. In my readings of Ansel's work he does make mention of other artists works that inspired particular images. Also, Ansel considered himself to have only made a dozen or so masterpieces in his life, a far cry from the assuration that everything he touched turned to gold. Many of Ansel's greatest acheivements came from work outside of photography, he used photography to open the door but he was involved in many environmental organizations longer than almost anyone else in history.

    Ansel is famous. Most famous people have a natural instinct for seperating themselves from the pack. This can be annoying and egotistical, but it is what makes others talk about them and helps to create their fame. Ansel has been good for photography. Most photographers are willing to tell you about "the time they met Ansel." He has inspired many and taught us all at least a little bit. You kind of have to accept Ansel warts and all.

  4. #4

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    ansel adams

    For a lot of photographers of my era, I am 47, Adams was the one source of information on the zone system that was readily available when we started in L.F. photography. Add to that his penchant for detailing how he created his images and you have a one stop source of information. A photographer who was passionate about his craft and unlike many of his contemporaries WILLING to share his secrets and thoughts. He desired to have his images used by the next generation as learning tools, he compared the negative to a score, able to be interpreted in many ways. He was bigger than life to many of his students and "fans" if you will, and he was, in the field of photography, very much sure of himself. Maybe vane, maybe not all that prone to crediting his photorgaphic fore fathers, but willing to give of his time, talent and knowledge. I suppose he could have destroyed all of his negatives as some have done, but he felt that there was value to using his images in the future, I beleive he would have loved to see what could be done in Photoshop 10 somewhere in the not so near future.

    I hope you see a trend in my thinking, I feel that his sharing of the knowledge, even if you had to buy the book was possibly his greatest legacy. He was, is and in all probability will be a controversial figure for years to come. The one thing he won't be is forgotten soon, his was more than 15 minutes of fame.

    At one time I thought he was the only photorgapher worth looking to for inspiration. I have found many more, but they all took a LOT more looking for than Adams. But if I had not had him as a model I probably would not have sought out the other photographers that mean so much to me now; it was his persistence in producing the very best he could that I took away from my studies of his works.

    Personally I don't buy into having to acknowledge your heritage at every turn. If you are interested in the history of photography, you will see the influence of other's in someone such as Adams work. I prefer that he share HIS knowledge with me not his spend time crediting someone who won't share thier thoughts, theories and technique. that doesn't help me, his sharing did and still does.

    There is an old saying that some times a cigar is just a cigar; somtimes a beautiful images is just a beautiful image regardless of who did it or why.

  5. #5

    ansel adams

    I met Ansel Adams briefly in 1977 when I was in college. Our large format photography instructor, who had previously worked at the gallery in Yosemite teaching Ansel's workshop, arranged for us to meet him. The visit was only 1-2 hours, but aside from marveling at his work, I was pleasantly surprised that he was a very down-to-earth person ~ "like us", if you will.

    His writing I found to be very detailed & I have not thought of it as having an attitude, per se. Making his negative available for others to learn a craft from is a very unselfish act. Yes, he acknowleges that he's a master photographer, but in printing a master's negatives, one would learn what it really takes to make a fine print. Please remember that Brett Weston destroyed all of his negatives on his 80th birthday. The weekend our class was in Monterey, we also met Morley Baer, Brett Weston, Mark Weston (and "The Darkroom") and Pat Weber ~ all fine photographers in their own right.

    In terms of his photography being similar to Timothy O'Sullivan's and Carleton Watkins', it's not. Similar in some ways maybe, but quite different. (Who else has shot "Moonrise Over Hernandez?") Could it be that you don't enjoy fine black & white landscapes as perhaps another subject? (I.e., Micheal Kenna)

    I am not an "Ansel Adams" nut, I appreciate his work for what it is & I have a different perspective that you do about his personality. (I shoot mainly medium format transparencies ~ my last B & W work was a co-worker's wedding.)

    Read Ansel's books & learn photography ~ his instruction is as timeless as his work.

    ~Ted

  6. #6

    ansel adams

    I think anyone who accomplishes a lot as an ego a little larger than average. If you didn't you'd never try to accomplish.

    Nevertheless, if Adams's only contribution were to legitimize phtography as an art, and it's hard to argue that he did not do this, that alone is enough. Adams did more than that, both in terms of his art and his teaching.

    If you haven't seen his photographs first hand, it's difficult to judge his work. The same is true of any photographer's work.

    Go to Yosemite, if you haven't, and visit the Ansel Adams Studio. You can buy an original for $150 or so. (Check out the prices on John Sexton's work while you are there. Lucky if you can find one for $600.) If you visit, I suspect you will find at least one of Ansel's images that you will want to own.

    However, if you give Ansel a good chance, and you still don't like his work, there is nothing wrong in that. It's just a matter of taste, and only you can decide what you like and don't like.

  7. #7
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    ansel adams

    As far as the failure to appreciate the great 19th-century landscape photographers, the fault lies more with critics who did not take photography seriously as an art form until relatively recently, than it does with Ansel Adams, who did much to bring about a wide appreciation for photography as an art form.

    I think it is an act of considerable humility for Adams to have donated his negatives. Some are notoriously difficult to print (particularly "Moonrise over Hernandez"), and a lesser human being--particularly one who advocated a systematic approach to pre-visualization and perfecting exposure--might have prefered to have kept such "failures" under wraps.

  8. #8

    ansel adams

    Lets also acknowledge that many of AAs most-read writings-including the "Examples" book-were done in the final years of his life (in his late 70s and early 80s) and his memory may have been rusty. The OSullivan "White House Ruin" photo is a good example. In "Examples" Adams writes, "I had stood unaware in almost the same spot on the canyon floor, about the same month and day, and at nearly the same time of day that OSullivan must have made his exposure, almost exactly sixty-nine years earlier." . . . But in the book "Our National Parks" is reprinted a letter from AA to the Newhalls (dated October 26, 1941) in which AA had written, "I photographed the White House Ruins from almost the identical spot and time of the OSullivan picture! Cant wait to [get to the darkroom to] see what I got!" I seriously doubt this kind of discrepancy can be ascribed to an intention to deceive or to hide the source of his inspiration. (Just as baffling: both books date the photo to 1942, even though the letter recalling it was written in 1941!--but then, Adams acknowledged in "Examples" that he was terrible with dates.)

    Its always tricky to try to read too much into the mind of another person without meeting them, volumes of memoirs notwithstanding. For instance, what if I admitted that I think its extremely arrogant when non-disabled people in these forums literally wont lift a finger (by using the "Shift" key) to make their letters readable, instead requiring hundreds of other people to do extra work? (I usually just ignore such posts, but the title on this one made it impossible to pass up.) We each have our own idiosyncracies, and AA is no exception. I dont think Adams was a genius-to my eye, Weston and Strand and Sudek seemed to show more of those qualities-but the breadth and depth of AAs influence (technically, environmentally/politically, financially-remember, he completely transformed the valuation of photographs-as well as in getting photography respected in artistic circles) require even his harshest critics to acknowledge his important role in the history of photogra

  9. #9
    Yes, but why? David R Munson's Avatar
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    ansel adams

    "It's just a matter of taste, and only you can decide what you like and don't like."

    I really agree with what Charlie said. Some people see Ansel as a sort of minor deity while others wouldn't give his photos a second look. It's like that with any photographer in any genre. For example, last year in my art history class we covered some modern photographers. There were a few individuals who were absolutely in love with anything done by David LaChapelle. I, on the other hand, got nothing and continue to get nothing out of his work. Does this mean he's overrated? Does this make him a bad photographer? Absolutely not. It just means that my taste differs from that of other people. The same thing goes for Ansel or anybody else one could name.

    My personal take on Ansel was that he was a very talented photographer and an incredible technician. Personally, I like his photogaphs and have found them to be a good source of inspiration. When I was first getting into photography his books really helped me get a good understanding of the technical side of things. I learned photography with his books as my guide and ended up with a very good handle on view camera technique and the zone system, among other things. However, it wasn't so much his images that helped me as it was his meticulous description of technique.

    I give Ansel a lot of credit for what he did as a photographer as well as what he did for photography as an art form. That said, do I consider him to be the best there ever was? No, I do not. There have been photographers before and since him who have accomplished just as much as he did. True, most have not become the sort of urban legend that Ansel has become, but that's not to say that they weren't just as good as photographers, if not better than Ansel was.

    It all comes back to a matter of taste and perception.

    We as humans are tend to look at issues like this very subjectively. I look forward to hearing other people's views on this subject. I really think it's interesting how widely people's opinions can vary when it comes to something as deceptively simple as a single photographer.

    I wonder what Ansel would say...
    So apparently my signature was full of dead links after a few years away...

  10. #10

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    ansel adams

    Photography is a very difficult craft--big egos are abundant, the big egos with little talent or contributions are the most pitiful. Ansel Adams shared his trade secrets not just to a few but to the masses and that alone sets him many notches above photographers who foolishly believe that they will somehow lose revenue and status if they give away their hard-won knowledge. By the time he decided to donate his negatives for future research, he had probably been encouraged by many to do so given the international recognition he had earned, I'm not so sure it was an act of self-pride.

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