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Friday, 09 April 2010


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Brilliant. Thanks.

I love it when artists of all stripes show a sense of time and place, like when he's talking about playing music on a modern piano that wasn't even conceived of when the score was written. In contrast to this awareness is how most people seem to go through their lives: just floating along without any reflection upon what has happened or what will.

Ansel Adams seems to be a man very aware of the space and time he occupied while he was alive. Thanks for shedding some light on him with your recent posts, Jim.

That does it! I'm going digital.

Seriously though, that is quite an interesting bit of information. Thanks for sharing it.

Wouldn't it be nice for someone to come along and scan a few of his negatives and put them up for people to play with? That's probably the closest many of us could ever get to his negatives, unless we made a big donation to the University of Arizona, of course.

If I got to make suggestions,I think I would begin with the negative for Clearing Winter Storm, taken in Yosemite Valley. That would be a fun place to start!


And, he should also be admired and respected for being one of the greatest teachers on photography. His short 3 books alone...The Camera, The Print and The Negative...are a treasure-trove, and still relevant today despite the digital transition.

Adams' photography doesn't generally suit my tastes (preferring his less contrasty early interpretation of some of his negs), but I don't like when his critics fail to recognize his contributions to the medium, and his wonderful capacity to see things in a broad and historical context.

I attended one of his last lectures at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and enjoyed his insights and his enthusiasm more than than his image display.

He would have been an active proponent, great teacher and likely innovator in this digital age.

So when can I get a digital scan of the negative for "Moonrise Over Hernandez" so I can do my own best performance of this image? What a thrill it would be to be able to create something, anything from Adams' iconic negs.

I can't take too many more of these Kleenex moments haha.

Seriously, I appreciate the insights into the great man.

Ansel Adams has always been among my favorites.
Now after reading his self criticism and his comments on score/performance, art/artist I love him even more.
His sight of the future was also very strong. I just wonder how many artists and/or professionals were aware of the coming age of digital photography, during eighties.

Many years ago when I was about 8, my aunt (who is an artist who mainly paints) gave me a really nice Ansel Adams wall calendar--well before I knew who Adams was and definitely before I understood his impact on modern photography.

Last year I finally removed the ring bindings from that calendar and framed many of the pages to make a four image Adams "mountain" grouping in my den. They are fantastic prints for a calendar (much better quality than some premium poster prints that I have seen), and the sentimental connection to my aunt makes them all the more special.

With as many people as Ansel Adams has inspired, I would love for some of his raw negatives to be scanned to allow people to manipulate and use. The analogy of a negative being a score and a performance being a print is fantastic! I would love to try my hand at "playing" one of Adams' negatives to see how I stack up.

I know good and well I will never play his music as well as Beethoven did, but I have tried, and have enjoyed the process (and have learned to appreciate the skill of the classical masters even more!) I will be interested in seeing how photographic negatives/raw files will be viewed in future years, and whether people's interpretations/prints of different images other than those created by the originator of the image will be known to stand on their own. It would be interesting for people to be able to make prints of famous images on our printers at home just like we are able to play works from old musicians on pianos in our home.

Great analogy that I had never heard before. Thanks, as always, for the history lesson.

Dear Jim,

Hah, I remember that column! Although I didn't remember which column it was that I remembered, if you get my drift. But I pretty well memorized the paragraph that started, "I've always said that the negative is the score..." and have repeated it innumerable times since (in the context of others' work, including my own).

And it has griped me no end ever since AA's death that his estate has done, so far as I know, a poor job of making his photographs available to other printers to work with. Even if you consider the originals too valuable to touch, it's possible to make extremely high quality dupes in the darkroom-- certainly good enough for novice printers. Now, digitally, you can make superb dupes and turn them out in unlimited numbers.

The current situation does not seem to me to be congruent with AA's intent.

If it turns out I'm simply ignorant of the estate's activities, I humbly apologize in advance.

pax / Ctein

The "score vs. performance" thing is a classic; I bring it out when people start objecting to any post-processing of a photo, to point out that it's not actually a radical fringe idea.

Given that the mural work is public domain, it's not impossible that scans of those negatives might turn up online some day. We should maybe be asking the relevant departments to work towards that, in fact.

"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."

Those are the words of a man who saw things with his own eyes that he wanted to share with others.
The fact that he did with technical excellence is not as important than the fact that he just did it, and shared it.

This Ansel stuff just gets better and better.

While not examples of his artistic work, very high quality scans of Adams' negatives from his documentary project at the Manzanar internment camps are available online at the Library of Congress' website, alongside scans of his original prints.

I've read that Adams was deeply troubled by the internment and considered this work important, but today the results come across as somewhat sterile and heroic for the most part. The technical excellence may even exaggerate the awkwardness.

About half the 200+ images are head shots, but I expect many will find the dozens of outdoor vistas of activities and landscapes more interesting, photographically.

The introductory page is here:

The scans are available via the "retrieve online images" link in the first paragraph.

I never had the opportunity to say "thank you" for donating a year of your life (or whatever) to write the Gene Smith biography. I doubt that you ever recovered a fraction of the cost to yourself, but you have written one of the few classic books about a great artist and his art. There is nothing else like it in photography, and I don't know of anything approaching it for painters and sculpters.
Again, thank you.

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