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Thread: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

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    mythlady's Avatar
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    Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    I've started a course in digital photography (Photoshop, really), and the instructor included this quote from Ansel Adams in his introduction to the course:

    "Photographers are, in a sense, composers and the negatives are their scores. ...In the electronic age, I am sure that scanning techniques will be developed to achieve prints of extraordinary subtlety from the original negative scores. If I could return in twenty years or so I would hope to see astounding interpretations of my most expressive images. It is true no one could print my negatives as I did, but they might well get more out of them by electronic means. Image quality is not the product of a machine, but of the person who directs the machine, and there are no limits to imagination and expression." - Ansel Adams

    I really like hearing his perspective, because it's so common (as we know) for people to think that in some "olden time," before the digital age, images sprang untouched from the cameras of people like Adams, who just captured "what he saw" and printed it up. We know that wasn't true, but it's good to hear Adams talking about "astounding interpretations" that could be made from his basic images, so that they would be more expressive.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Thank you for sharing this, Elise. This is a timely statement.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Thank you Elise,

    A few weeks ago I had a long discussion with someone who claimed that digital photography had nothing to do with art anymore like photography with film. I was not able with my arguments to change his mind. Maybe this quote will make him at least think different about it, also because he mentioned that Ansel Adams was the proof of his opinion!

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Thank you Elise.

    I'd seen this quote before but, at the time, never registered the fact that it could/should be used on here whenever a person raises questions about the 'honesty' of post-processing.

    I've now saved it for future use.


    PS - And good on you for starting the course. We expect to see the results in the near future!!

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Great quote.
    I think post processing gets a bad wrap for a couple of reasons.
    1- I'm relatively uninformed about the history of photography and the film developing process; so I had no idea, until I started visiting this site and read mention of it from Donald's comments that historically, photographers spent hours in the darkroom. I thought Ansel's images came straight from the camera right to perfection.
    2- Because it is the tool used in the very controverisal issue of mass media images of women and the impact it has on defining beauty and body image issues. I'll leave that whole mess for another forum, my point is that, for non-photographers this may be the only way they know about post processing and because its linked to a controversial topic it gets a negative connotation.

    Debbie

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Debbie

    It's a good point you make. I think it's the fact that technology has brought into the hands of the masses (like us) what was the preserve of the few in the past. And like all technologies it can be used creatively and to great effect .... or it can be abused and misunderstood.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Well, coming from an old school film background, I look at this digital photography much the same way wet plate photographers looked at celluloid fimers. It's an entirely different medium. Celluloid film mimicked the look of wet plate, albumen and salt. It did it faster, more efficient and with far less toxic chemicals.

    I once stated to this forum, I was "coming into the digital world kicking and screaming all the way." Truth is, I quit kicking several weeks back and after installign CS5, the only screaming I do now is in glee...whooohoooo, lookeeeeee.

    As to a bad rap, this to shall pass and there will come a time when few people know how to do film just as today there are but a handful of people doing old-style alternative. I guess as a practicioner of all three, it will always be hard to not miss the smell of a darkroom or the lovely look of a platinum print.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    I just heard about it. And I also just entried thread "Ansel Adams's Law". I like very much his idea, at that time (so long befor us) but Adams has amazing statemnets till now.

    Thanks Elise

    Ross

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by djg05478 View Post
    Great quote.
    I think post processing gets a bad wrap for a couple of reasons.
    1- I'm relatively uninformed about the history of photography and the film developing process; so I had no idea, until I started visiting this site and read mention of it from Donald's comments that historically, photographers spent hours in the darkroom. I thought Ansel's images came straight from the camera right to perfection.
    2- Because it is the tool used in the very controverisal issue of mass media images of women and the impact it has on defining beauty and body image issues. I'll leave that whole mess for another forum, my point is that, for non-photographers this may be the only way they know about post processing and because its linked to a controversial topic it gets a negative connotation.

    Debbie
    Hi,

    I very much agree with it. Before I have started reading about photography, what is quite recent, my impression of edition was in general very bad. I always linked it to those exaggerated magazines or advertisement effects. Now, I accept it much better, although surely there are somethings that - for any purpose - I still consider too much.
    Perhaps I'll get a more mature opinion when I start learning post-process.

    The fact that I, and most of the laymen, totally unknow how films were really develop surely enhances this prejudice, as Debbie stated.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    My 300th Post

    I see an interesting point from this quote that many here, so far, either over looked or simply hasn't recognized. Adams refers to the image recording medium as still being film while also referencing film scanning and a digital post processing flow.

    In this period of camera technology, most photographers have cameras which directly generate digital output, a concept that Adams did not mentioned at all. It would be beneficial to know when Adams said this to better understand his perspective at the time.

    Likewise, a handful of photographers still shoot or have returned back to film. I've come full circle, I started out with fully manual film cameras, waiting for digital technology to mature, by my film background stand point, where I've gone digital, and now I'm migrating back to film since it's performance in many situations that I enjoy photographing exceeds what can presently be achieved digitally.

    Interestingly, I have found many other 21st century film photographers employ the very post process flow that Adams describes. Shoot film, scan into a digital format, and then manipulate the image to achieve the desired presentation. I have found a software company which actually provides scanner software capable of scratch removal, digital noise reduction, and HDR multi-pass scanning from a single negative, along the very lines of Adams' quote. ( Just imagine if you could get one of Adams' own negatives and scan it with such technology ? ) Film photographers, whether shooting 35 mm, medium, or large format, either turn to film labs or have their own equipment which create multi giga-pixel scans and this is their RAW starting point. I've even found a photography blog where the author titles it the Figital Revolution. ( I'm beginning to wonder how much of a revolution it is if Ansel Adams described the process so many, obviously, years ago. )

    I'm reminded of the saying "Everything old becomes new again..."

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Ansel Adams didn't mention cameras with speicific digital output because for all intent and purposes, they didn't exist then. Adams died in early 1984 which predates digital workflow as we know it by a number of years.

    As I understand it from Al Weber, all of Adam's negatives have been scanned and digitally archived and if you purchase a print from an original negative, it is more likely to be a digitally remastered work than from the negative itself.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    I certainly would never attempt to compare myself with Ansel Adams but, I always considered myself to be quite a good black and white darkroom printer but, I was only fairly proficient as a color printer. I have never had any thoughts that the printing process and now the Photoshop post processing was not creative.

    Any person who expects to use imagery directly from the camera (even in JPEG) is certainly not getting the most from the equipment. This would be akin to considering the black and white negative as the final product of Ansel Adams art!

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Hans, you might also direct your friend to information on the Pictorialists, a very early movement in photography that included some of the greats (Stieglitz, Steichen, even Adams at the very beginning of his career, I think) in which they seriously altered photographic negatives in the darkroom to create "art." He could read about it here or here.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisC View Post
    Ansel Adams didn't mention cameras with speicific digital output because for all intent and purposes, they didn't exist then. Adams died in early 1984 which predates digital workflow as we know it by a number of years.

    As I understand it from Al Weber, all of Adam's negatives have been scanned and digitally archived and if you purchase a print from an original negative, it is more likely to be a digitally remastered work than from the negative itself.
    Chris

    Re your first paragraph, is that not the point that Steaphany is making. And in relation to your second paragraph, is that not the point that Adams was making?

    I'm not sure of the point you're making here.
    Last edited by Donald; 4th January 2011 at 04:23 PM.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    "Interestingly, I have found many other 21st century film photographers employ the very post process flow that Adams describes. Shoot film, scan into a digital format, and then manipulate the image to achieve the desired presentation."

    I think this is what threw me in Stephany's comment. It semed to me she was stating this is how Adam's interpreted his outflow process. My comment was directed to that part of the comment which on face value may have seemed repetitive and not making much of a point but would given my interpretation...as to the second paragraph, I don't think Adams ever had a total sense of what was going to happen 20 years after his demise. While he understood there was about to be a shift in how imagery would be created, I am not sure he would embrace PhotoShop like even he stated he might..... Frankly, I think if he were alive today, he would be heartbroken to see film go by the wayside.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisC View Post
    "Interestingly, I have found many other 21st century film photographers employ the very post process flow that Adams describes. Shoot film, scan into a digital format, and then manipulate the image to achieve the desired presentation."

    I think this is what threw me in Stephany's comment. It semed to me she was stating this is how Adam's interpreted his outflow process. My comment was directed to that part of the comment which on face value may have seemed repetitive and not making much of a point but would given my interpretation...
    Maybe need to leave that one hanging. Probably me, but I'm not sure I follow your thinking

    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisC View Post
    Frankly, I think if he were alive today, he would be heartbroken to see film go by the wayside.
    If you mean that he would have regretted the development, growth and dominance of digital, then I would have to differ with you on that. Indeed, I would suggest that his continually being at the leading edge of development and his enthusiasm for the new and the innovative, would have seen him very enthusiastically welcoming the development of digital. His desire was to see the best possible finished product being produced. He may have held on to a view that a better image could be achieved via the use of film, but he certainly would not have objected to the development and introduction of new technology.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Not long ago I visited an exhibit of Ansel Adams photographs. Along with the prints, they included a darkroom exhibit and explained among other things how he used dodging and burning when developing prints. The exhibit also include a piano to emphasize Adams' earliest artistic talent as a musician (that also lends a twist to the quote above about the negative being like a score). There is no question that from the start he intended to do quite a bit of darkroom work for many of his photographs. Definitely not a case of pressing the shutter and he's done. He was also known to change how he processed his prints obtaining starkly different effects between the various prints. What does this say about visualizing the final print as he set up his view camera?

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    John C...Up 75 a piece, just north of Marietta, (and shame on me for not remembering the name of the place) there is a small community museum which currently has a great Ansel Adams show. I was going to go over Christmas but got tied up with other projects. I am sure you can google it.

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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    Sorry, I didn't mean to cause any confusion.

    I'm sure Ansel Adams saw the dawn of digital photography. Fairchild Semiconductor introduced the first CCD imager chip in 1973, the Bayer color mask that introduced color digital photography was in 1975, and according to the History of the Camera, Digital Cameras From Wikipedia, Sony had a demonstration Mavica camera out in 1981, four years prior to Ansel Adams' death in 1984. I do not know the dates, but I'm well aware of flat bed and drum scanning technology existed far earlier.

    This is why I asked for the date of the quote that started this thread. Did Adams make this remark before or after the advent of the early digital cameras ? Prior to 1975, and especially 1981, the remark would have been in reference to the technology at hand, film scanning and early computing, but if after 1981, then the landscape had already changed, filmless digital photography was a reality, and it would have simply been a matter of time before digital technology advanced to what we have today.

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    mythlady's Avatar
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    Re: Words from the great Ansel Adams . . .

    I did a little more nosing around and found out that he said this (and other things) on a BBC program from 1983 titled “Master Photographers” on YouTube. I don't have time to watch all the segments right now to report back, but you can find them here, here,, here, and here.

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