Friday, August 6, 2010

Ansel Adams In Color? Who Knew???

Now, I already know that I'm going to ruffle some feathers with this post, so why don't we just go ahead and get it out of the way?

I am not particularly a fan of photographer Ansel Adams, and looking back, realize I have never been. Don't get me wrong, I fully acknowledge the man as an absolute icon of photographic art, and will be the first to stand up and salute his amazing contributions to both the technical as well as esthetic aspects of the medium.

It's simply the work. His meticulous and mind-numbingly analytical breakdowns of scenic light and exposure, and absolute perfect processing and printing of large-format negatives has neither insired me nor motivated my own work.

I am most defintely from the "deconstruction - reconstruction" school of art, and I've always prefered my images include people (and their emotions), man-made structures, movement, spontaneity, elements of artificial light, and storytelling in lieu of anything purely scenic and natural. And I also think obsessing too much over the technical apsect of photography often takes away from its emotional impact.

My inspirations early on were abstract artists such as Duane Michals, Andy Warhol, Art Kane, and Jerry Uelsmann. When it's all said and done, we are what we are, and are driven by our unique individual passions. I will never apologize for that...

I'll take this blasphemy one step futher. Over the years, I have often looked at the works of Adams, tonal perfection and all, and have thought to myself, "This looks like such an amazing scene. It's a shame the image isn't in COLOR..."

Now, before you start to go round up the townsfolk to chase me up into a tall wooden structure that you plan to set on fire, let me assure you these thoughts were not out of ignorance. Early in my career, my work was almost entirely black and white (both commercial as well as exhibition). And from the time I first learned of it, I fully embraced the Zone System as the primary exposure tool for my film (and now my digital) photography. I adore a monochrome world!

But alas, when it comes to art, I usually go with my gut, and all I can say is that IMHO certain images, certain scenes, just lend themselves more to a color treatment. And to me, stripping this element from a wonderous, majestic, stunningly beautiful natural landscape, no matter how well done, bleeds it of much of its life force and emotional power.

Which brings us to the whole point of today's entry!  Last weekend, whilst browsing my favorite local bookshop on a lazy Sunday morning, I stumbled upon what I think is an absolutely marvelous photo book: Ansel Adams in Color (http://amzn.to/9yUHpj).

It was as if my wish over the years was finally granted...

Now, in all fairness, this is not a new title. It is simply revised and expanded from the 1993 edition. But it is better, the main reason being its image scans have improved, and the printed photos most surely are much closer to what Adams originally achieved in his darkroom or custom lab.

And what photos they are! This was my first time really looking at this work, and as I thumbed through the volume, I was surprised how many of these pictures moved me in a way the black and white classics never did. It's not something I can easily explain, and it's certainly not something I can argue about with a "purist", but in my heart I know I was right, at least from my point of view...

I honestly feel that these "new" images are undiscovered treasures for many photographers and art lovers who only know Adams as a black and white artist, and whether you prefer them to the iconic, traditional versions or not is really not the point. I see it as simply adding to Adams' amazing legacy and body of work...