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Friday, 14 December 2012


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Andrea Stillman provides the narration on the excellent Ansel Adams iPad app, reviewed here: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/12/ansel-adams-app-for-ipad-just-released.html

I have "Looking at Ansel Adams" and it gets a thumbs up from me. It's more like a min-biography written around a series of images. Excellent book.


If you will allow me to dissent from your praise of the Ansel Adams book. I have the book and find it troubling.

On one hand the photographs it examines overlap almost entirely (sixteen out of twenty images) with the ones in the well-regarded Examples: The Making of Forty Photographs. Most of the book simply goes over the same tired ground as this and the other popular Ansel books.

On the other hand, I find it frustrating that the Ansel Adams Publishing Trust continues to hold such tight control over Ansel's legacy, allowing only those from the inner circle to use Ansel's photographs in publication. I do not think this is what Ansel intended and it is a tragedy that Ansel's work suffers such constraints.


I'm not sure which 20 photos the Adams book details, but He Himself did a great job in his book, Examples: the Making of 40 Photographs.

How much overlap between the two books' contents?

"avuncular dynamo", perfect!

Out of curiosity, in "The Changing Face..." does the author mention William Mortensen?

"does the author mention William Mortensen?"

You can look for yourself who's discussed. Go to the Amazon page, hover your mouse over the book cover, then click on "Table of Contents." Eleven photographers are profiled in the book, Mortensen (who wasn't primarily a portraitist) not included.


After reading this blog post yesterday I went and ordered LOOKING AT ANSEL ADAMS. Now after reading the the follow up posts here I'm wondering if I'm going to feel ripped off by the Adams Trust because I've had Examples: the Making of 40 Photographs sitting on my shelf for almost thirty years.

I have always held Ansel up as a bit of an icon, though I had never seen any of his work in the flesh, as it were.

This changed a month or so ago when many of his most famous prints were loaned to the Maritime Museum, Greenwich (London).

I have to say (dodging brickbats) that I was rather disappointed.

While I can appreciate how pioneering the work was, and the processing of the shots, my exposure to so much contemporary work of quality (though no doubt it and the whole genre owes much to Adams) made me realise how constrained the technical equipment and film was at the time.

My respect for the man did not diminish, but I gained little actual enjoyment from looking at the pictures themselves. In their full-sized glory they do not look very impressive by modern standards.

And not just because they were monochrome.

"I'm wondering if I'm going to feel ripped off by the Adams Trust because I've had Examples: the Making of 40 Photographs sitting on my shelf for almost thirty years."

Well, I don't know how I could do more to help you decide, before you see the book for yourself. You've read what I had to say about it, and you've read what Darin had to say about it.

My impression is that Stillman's book is nothing like "Examples," but then, my copy of "Examples" is put away and I can't compare the two directly. I'm just going from memory.

What Stillman is doing in my view is what Jim Bullard said: "It's more like a mini-biography written around a series of images." Just the greatly augmented secondary illustrations are worth the price in my view.

But you'll have to judge for yourself.


Actually, it would be worth getting both books. In my note above I was just trying to point out that there's also an older book by Adams himself.

And in fact, if you sit down with his Basic Photo Series (even the skinny early editions from the 1960s by published by Morgan & Morgan), you'll find that Adams was always explaining his thinking, craft, and techniques to the reader.

His captions are marvels of how-to combined with explanations of why he did what he did to make a given photo.

What you do with all this technique is up to you and your esthetic tastes, but if you pay attention you'll learn the basics of the craft.

To be blunt, you can learn the basics of the zone system by reading the captions alone.

In that light, probably the most badly mistitled photo book of the last 100 years is Minor White's Zone System Manual, which becomes opaqueness personified when you start to read it. I like many things White did when photographing, but that book has led countless impressionable newbie photogs down pathways of mystification.

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