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Monday, 12 January 2015


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.


Speaking of videos of photographers, for those readers who have access to cable TV's Showtime, they are running "Finding Vivian Maier" several times over the course of this month.

I'd heard him speak (and play piano) in a video that I have somewhere on VHS. It was made later in his life> I haven't watched it in years and don't recall the title but it may have been a PBS production.

Until recently, I lived near the coast in central California, and have spent days shooting in the same areas between Big Sur, Point Reyes and Yosemite. Adams and the Westons were the main triggers getting me out into photography, and into the darkroom back in the late '60s.

Maybe the most striking segment, for me, was the bit in the darkroom where Adams was exposing/burning/dodging the print; rapid, deft, certain, fluid. (I think I'll still stick with digital, though.)

Thanks for the pointer!!

Then you should definitely see the 1981 (Film America) video released by Pacific Arts (in 1986?), Ansel Adams Phographer It's 60 minutes in color, with Ansel talking, playing piano, talking with Georgia O'Keeffe and Beaumont Newhall, visiting his house and darkroom, and more. You get to see a more 'mature' Ansel, reflecting on his life and work.

I find this and other videos helpful complements for anyone who collects books and/or photos from various well known photographers. For me, it lends additional perspective, insight, and a personal touch to the work. I have a dozen or so; most were produced on VHS, although I think some (including the one above) have since been released on DVD.

This reminded me of the radio WEAF (NYC) radio station interview of Weegee that you can listen to. See http://soundportraits.org/on-air/weegee/

Thanks, this was great.

But really, who can think in all those formats at once? Ansel Adams, I guess...

My kids would have fallen asleep due to the pacing. I found the film captivating.

What would likely be presented in less than four minutes today was given a leisurely 20 minutes of film time. Whether for better or worse, it's certainly a noticeable difference. However, when taken in the context of today's pacing it fits the very deliberate methodology with which Adams photographed.

This film existed in my own school board's library for many years and was part of my teaching courses on film,
One of the better represntations of Adams, of a side many of us would normally have never experienced.

I find it really inspiring to see Adams do all of the work on his own (he doesn't have twelve assistants doing all the grunt work) - it's also impressive to see how well organized he is - I am sure the video is somewhat scripted but he doesn't leave much to chance...

Ansel Adams was torn between a career as a concert pianist and one as a photographer, so it's no surprise to hear him play the piano. In fact, there's some evidence that the Zone method arose from his musical sensibilities - that the distinct zones of light and dark in photographic prints were to him like the distinct notes of a scale. It's a good thing that he wearied of the social scene that went with being a classical musician - it drove him toward the solitude and honesty of Yosemite and the high Sierras.

My friend Charles Cramer has a number of recordings of Ansel playing piano. If you ever get to one of Charlie's talks you might get to hear them.

Great find! Another AA documentary is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNvMBvkmjvU

David Myers was a very well known film maker and cinematographer who started as a still photographer - the guardian has a nice obit on him if you do a search - associated with Imogen Cunningham, Adams, Weston, Ron Partridge, John Collier Jr, Dorothea Lange, and other Bay Area artists, photographers, and film makers. He may be best known for his cinematography in rock documentaries on Woodstock, The Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, and others. The "ken burns" effect stuff, including most of the technology and technique, all originated in the 1950s with a contemporary of David Myers, the photographer and cinematographer Lou Stoumen, except that Stoumen did it better than Burns. Stoumen even did the Civil War before Burns, for which he received an Academy Award (one of two).

Malcolm Collier

Jeez, best thing I've seen for a while. I liked the quote..."endless moments of the world." Adams had a very cool and judgmental eye for landscape, which sets his photos apart from people who do similar images. He photographed things that were in his mind, and wasn't happy until his eye and mind coincided, while other landscape artists photograph things that are "out there." I suspect that's why his portraits are not as interesting -- he couldn't put that same cool eye on people (as somebody like Lucian Freud could; or Kirk Tuck, for that matter -- big fan of Kirk's portraits here.)

I envy him that car. I wish I had the balls to do the same thing to my SUV. The guys at the car shop tell me there's no good safe way to do it that won't screw up the resale value. I'm 70, and I still worry about resale...sob.

Thanks for the video, I enjoyed the reference to his tripod, a Chicago Majestic which can be see at the 6 min. mark and on location at 11:50. Not carbon fiber, still available for about $100 used for legs and geared head, I have owned two. Cannot be beat if you can deal with weight.

Some of what I have read in the past inspired me to put my tripod up on the roof of my truck, but after seeing this I'm sure Ansel still has me beat. I don't think I could quite convince my wife of the need of building a custom shooting platform up there. :)

A most charming documentary. But what a chore it must have been to carry by hand these heavy cases into the field. Thank you Michael for the link.

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.

If you use google Street View you can see the street remains much as it was in Adams time. At around 5:47 in the video, he's driving down West Clay away from where it dead ends on 24th Ave.

On an unrelated note, we see Beaumont Newhall's unabashed love for Adams is in full bloom in 1957. "Like all good photographers, Adams previsualizes... " and so on. Lunn may have made Adams rich, but Newhall arguably made him important.

I was married in june of 1970, our one extravagance afterward was a weekly trip to Manhattan for Saturday morning breakfast at the Edwardian Room of The Plaza Hotel, and then we would walk uptown towards Bloomingdales, with a stop at Lee Witkin's Gallery. (East 60th I believe) While hard to believe now, the prints were matted, wrapped in acetate, and displayed in flip bins.
There was one print that I thought was mesmurizingly beautiful. I would go there each week just to look at it.
Finally, one week as my attention was elsewhere I heard my wife talking to Lee.
She was buying the print.
Now I knew who Ansel Adams was, and would have loved to hve that print, but it was more than a months rent, and we really couldn't afford to spend $300 on ANYTHING, let alone this print that drew me back each week.
Newly Married I 'knew' I needed to be practical, and told Lee that there was no way we could really afford it. Even though my wife was angry with me.
Lee couldn't have been nicer, and said if things change I should come back because I 'had a good eye' and someday I might regret not making the purchase.
I really wanted that print. so On my way out, I wrote down the title.....Moonrise, Hernandez NM
I never made it back with the cash.
I of course regret not listening to my wife, because I would have had it to enjoy all these years. (and a Much Better story) The value has risen and fallen over the years, but I never would have sold it so that part doesn't matter as much.
I do listen to my wife more though.

Thank you for sharing this. I showed the segment where Ansel is loading his car with every format and focal length from ULF to 35mm. It gives me an excuse to take more gear on our road trips!

Thanks for sharing this. It made my morning. The impact for me was seeing Ansel's fingers gliding over the ivories and then, later, dodging the print and dipping into the developer. The physicality of analog photography is interesting in itself.

If this were a modern film, as mentioned in comments above, the pacing would be quicker, mostly to obscure the utter boredom of watching someone sit at a computer and peck at a mouse.

Adams is so imitated and revered it is tempting to dislike him on principle. But then you see a print of his in a museum and it is the most moving thing in the entire building. Glad this film was preserved.

Just watched this video on YouTube. Learnt quite a lot I did not know even though I have several of his books:


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