Curiously, I don't think I'd ever seen this short film before I stumbled across this other day. Written by Nancy Newhall, narrated by Beaumont Newhall, shot by David Myers, Ansel Adams, Photographer is a 1958 mini-documentary that features Ansel not only speaking—I'm quite sure I'd never heard his speaking voice before—but also playing the piano! I'm not sure that you can tell through all the layers betwixt it and thee, but Ansel was very particular about the tone of his piano, and went to great lengths to get the one he liked best.
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Charming little period piece from 57 years ago. Note that Director Myers uses the "Ken Burns Effect"!
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Featured Comments from:
scott kirkpatrick: "Lovely music, familiar images, but the most fascinating thing to me was to hear both Adams and Newhall speaking in the round tones that the movie studios taught all actors in the '40s. They sound like the voice-overs from 'Victory at Sea.' It is also fascinating to see just how much carefully organized stuff Ansel Adams could fit into his trademark shooting wagon."
Charles Cramer: "Some musical observations: Ansel asked his then photographic assistant, Don Worth, to compose the music for this documentary. Like Ansel, Don started off as a musician, attending Juilliard, and then getting a Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music. That's Don playing the piano part. I got to travel with Don on several occasions in Australia about 30 years ago (yikes!) When a piano was available, our hosts would ask us to play. Don usually performed one of his own arrangements of big band tunes from the '40s.
"In the '80s, Don added a room to his home for his new prize possession—a 9 ft. Steinway concert grand! Like Ansel, he continued to love the piano. Ansel was renowned for the tone he created at the piano, and I find it interesting to observe his hand movements. Most pianists would keep their hands close to the keys, but Ansel's hands are often in the air, adding some visual flourishes and showmanship."
Mike adds: Our friend Charlie is a very accomplished pianist himself. I don't know if he's recorded any commercial CDs, but I very much enjoyed a CD he sent me. You can read a bit about his connection to music on the bio page of his website.
Kenneth Tanaka: "Way, way over the top even for 1958. But it was probably effective for Adams's brand-building strategy at the time."
Mike replies: ...As far as that went. Ansel didn't have much of a brand at the time. It would be 13 or 14 years until Harry Lunn more or less singlehandedly created the photography art market, and he did it with Ansel Adams—Harry's first Adams show, in 1971, created a sensation by selling $10,000 worth of Ansel Adams prints at $150 for a 16x20. Harry was known as the man who made Ansel a millionaire. Consider that in 1970, when Lunn opened his gallery, there was only one single gallery in the U.S. that concentrated on photography—and that one, Lee Witkin's, opened in 1969. Sotheby's didn't even have a photography sale until 1975.
Ansel certainly saw himself as an artist in 1958, of course, as many of the left coast art photographers did. But to accuse him of brand-building is too cynical.
Wayne: "Great film. I guess the greatest impact on me was the portion in which he is setting up for the beach rocks. The final image is, of course, pure art; but it impressed me, just how ordinary the the seascape, from which he extracted this bit of art. What an illustration of the importance of the photographer's eye."
Mike adds: And notice that he doesn't even look at the scene when he makes the exposure—he glances at it and then looks back at the camera for a few seconds, using the darkslide as a lens shade, before shooting (at about 7:26). Interesting in that the negative (at about 8:00) contains a breaking wave.
Incidentally the light meter he's using is an S.E.I. Photometer, an early spot meter.