One thing leads to another. My recent post on Ansel Adams got me thinking, and I dug into my collection of old photo magazines and found a "Proof Sheet" column I wrote for the January 1980 edition of Popular Photography. I had interviewed Ansel for a second time, this time in New York City in 1979.
This master of the optical/chemical darkroom and the silver print had an interesting, even prescient perspective on digital photography, which at that point in time was but a blip in anyone's consciousness.
As I wrote at the time: Few people realize that this titan of the straight and clear image (in his early days in photography, this represented a revolutionary concept) looks forward to the day when certain select students of his work will be able to interpret one of his negatives in new media, even using computer enhancement.
"I figured, what the hell is the use of having the negatives stored away in a trunk," Adams told me, explaining one of the motivating factors for his playing such a central role in the establishment of the [then new] Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, which will house the Adams archive. "Stieglitz canceled every one of his negatives by putting a little 'x' in the corner. You can't print them. The only ones I've canceled are from Portfolio VI, which I withdrew from circulation in accordance with my agreements, and Portfolio V, which I actually canceled...and I'm sorry I did.
"I've always said that the negative is the score, and the print the performance. I want it to be possible for people in the future to perform my negatives. After all, when I was playing the piano, I was playing the music of people who had been dead for quite a few hundred years, and who had never heard the sounds of my modern piano -- they had written for the harpsichord, the clavichord. I actually feel that in the next few years—it won't be very long—the electronic image is really going to be the medium in photography."
Later in the piece, I wrote: No doubt there are photographers who don't like Adams' work, but they, too, must admit his importance. His intense and spirited presence through the years has helped make it possible for all photographers to enjoy the manifold rewards of legitimacy. Does Ansel have a philosophy of giving?
"If you're a professional, you contribute to the profession," he replies. "There is an underlying attitude for support, a pouring back of interest and thought. Musicians teach master classes. Doctors do research, write papers, give time to charity. The artist is a professional.
"If the art gives the artist life, then the artist in turn should give the art life. There has been a lack of understanding of this concept in photography. But you just can't live an independent, selfish existence. You lose on it."
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.