Ansel Adams - Whats so great?

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by SteveEllis, Dec 20, 2005.

  1. SteveEllis

    SteveEllis TPF Noob!

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    Hi Guys,

    I have heard the name Ansel Adams appear on here a bit lately, he seems to be described as the be all and end all of photography.

    But to be honest, I have looked at some of his images (Only on the internet admittedly) and dont really see whats so special about them. Yes there are some great shots, but there seems to be a lot of overly dark shots that in my opinion are terrible, the Nevada Desert Road photo being a prime example.

    Am I missing something or does the computer simply not do this man the justice he deserves?

    Thanks,
    Steve.
     
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  2. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    You have to see prints in the original to fully appreciate them. Reproductions in books or on computers loose an awful lot so you can't use them to make judgements.
    Ansel Adams was, undoubtedly, a technical master but I think this does cloud a lot of people's thinking about him. There is a lot more to a good photograph than technical perfection.
    I have a complete set of reproductions of all his portfolios and I have to admit that there are quite a few pictures in there that just don't make it in terms of subject and composition. Most of his landscapes were set up for him by Nature, anyway.
    I have even seen a still life of his that would only get a 'C' for GCSE student.
    My personal view of AA was that he was much better at doing portraits than anything else - those portraits of his that I've seen are superb. Particularly the one of Weston.
    I think a lot of the myth of Adams came about the same way as Jackson Pollock's status - and at about the same time.
    In the 50's and 60's the US felt it needed some great Artists to combat the 'Communist' Modern Art movements in Europe so they promoted selected people. Adams would be an obvious choice as he took pictures celebrating America the Beautiful. Perfect for propaganda purposes.
    If you think this is a far-fetched theory I assure you it isn't. The evidence supports the Pollock theory and it is now accepted worldwide. There is also proof that the CIA commissioned the cartoon version of 'Animal Farm', paid for it to be made and paid for it to be promoted and screened at all Schools in the 'free' world. They thought it would help to defeat Communism.
    I wouldn't be at all surprised to find Adams gained some of his stature in the same way. But no-one wants to do research that might tarnish the myth.
     
  3. Digital Matt

    Digital Matt alter ego: Analog Matt

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    First of all, you are looking at 72 dpi of pixels on an uncalibrated monitor.

    Secondly, in this day and age of photoshop and digital cameras, what Ansel was able to do with FILM seems very passe, when in fact, it is very difficult, and at the height of the artform.

    Thirdly, and lastly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you don't like it, you don't like it. If you have a passion for the outdoors, and the beauty of Yosemite, then I don't think you can deny the beauty of his photography.
     
  4. photoboy15

    photoboy15 TPF Noob!

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    Personally I think you need to work in a darkroom to appreciate AA. I look at a lot of pictures today and yea they look cool. Then I ask is this person a photographer or a photographer thats really good at photoshop guy/girl. AA was that "photoshop guy" of the early 20th century. He was a technical master even if all his picture weren't the best composed or most impressive to look at.
     
  5. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    But you can't ascribe artistic skill to someone who is just taking pictures of something that is naturally beautiful, can you? Just recording what is there is easy to do and takes no real skill. Anyone can do it. But this fact is forgotten and so Adams is renowned as a great landscape photographer - whilst the things he did which are worthy of merit are forgotten or largely ignored.
    You also need to put his technical achievements into perspective.
    He shot on 10x8 and contact printed, and it's easy to get good results that way. And the Zone System was largely developed by Edward Weston, who taught Adams.
     
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  6. Digital Matt

    Digital Matt alter ego: Analog Matt

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    So there is no artistic skill in landscape nature photography?
     
  7. panzershreck

    panzershreck TPF Noob!

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    that's a wholly different debate - who is responsible for great art - the artist, or the subject? painting/drawing is easy, photography not so much... you can have brilliant technical skills, but your photos can suck if the subject sucks... whereas you can have terrible technical skills, but still get good photos if the subject is good...

    in AA's case, he was technically excellent
     
  8. JC1220

    JC1220 TPF Noob!

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    Go see some of his photographs in person, the web is really not a reliable way to view photographs.

    Adams was indeed a great photographer for many reasons, and produced some wonderful work. Like any great he was not without fault and, like any medium, bound to have people who don't like his work.

    Does he make my list of top 10 photographers? No. I think I said this before in another post, but for someone who did know so much about the technical he did way too much manipulation in the darkroom. He was really not a visually productive photographer with his truely best work spanning maybe a decade and a half. Once he moved away from contact printing, and on to large prints, there was a marked degredation in the quality. It has also been said about Adams, and I agree, that he brought us and helped us to see the natural surface beauty with his vision while other photographers had the ability to connect on a scale of truely deep beauty and universal resonance, i.e. Weston.

    Regardless, I do believe he was a great photographer, not only for his work but what he was able to do for the medium.

    JC
     
  9. Hertz van Rental

    Hertz van Rental TPF Noob!

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    I didn't say that. What I was saying was that sometimes people are seduced by the subject and though the photographer has very little input he gets praised for being good when it is the subject that does all the work.
    This is something that you have to bear in mind when looking at photographs and judging them critically.

    And Adams does deserve a place amongst the greats - it's just that some people rate him far higher than he deserves.
     
  10. JTHphoto

    JTHphoto TPF Noob!

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    I probably shouldn't even be posting in here because I have no darkroom experience and don't know anything about the life of AA or any pro-photog for that matter. I think it's just like Matt said above, it all comes down to personal taste in art/photography. to some, he's the greatest, others may not like his work. All i know is that if someone asked me to name as many professional photogs as i could, his would be the only name i could come up with... maybe that's just because i live in the SW and don't have any formal photography education. :(


    hertz, i found the propaganda theory about AA's popularity interesting, wouldn't surprise me in the least. it definitely makes sense the way you describe it. never heard that before... is this the kind of stuff you can learn in a photography class? the university wouldn't let you take photo 101 unless you were an art major, and the community college cancelled all darkroom classes and only had "digital" darkroom classes where you bought b&w film which was developed c-41 at a walgreens and then worked with on a computer to make prints. i dropped it after my second class. LAME.
     
  11. zedin

    zedin TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    To some extent also AA is great because of the shots he got. By this I mean you really didn't see to many photographers of that age lugging a huge view camera through America's wilderness. Some of the shots were considered so great due to the fact he took the time and effort to get to the location with his gear.
     
  12. Kent Frost

    Kent Frost TPF Noob!

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    AA set a major milestone in photography during his day. There weren't near as many people into the art of photography/darkroom in his day as there are today. especially if you take into consideration the advent of digital. Now there are millions of people trying to duplicate his style. Standing and looking at his prints today probably has quite a different effect on a lot of people VS. the people of the 1950's. There just weren't that many of those kinds of images floating around. Nonetheless, I do feel that his work has stood the test of time, but as mentioned, computer monitors and reproductions do NOT do his work justice at all.
     

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