20 August 2011

Ansel Adams: How did he do it?

Susan Brannon
19 August 2011
Ansel Adams - Joshua Tree 1942 - © 2009 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
Ansel Adams;  How did he do it?

Ansel Adams is known for his beautiful black and white nature images and for developing photography techniques in the development process of the images. 

His first camera was a Kodak No.1 Box Brownie. This camera was first rollfilm camera bearing the new brand name "Kodak", patented and introduced in 1888. It used Eastman stripping negative film. The Kodak No. 1 of 1889 resembled the Kodak, but featured a more sophisticated shutter.

I must mention however, that a good images does not come from the equipment and all the gadgets, it comes from inspiration.  Photography is an art, and your images must come from within.  Adams said, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it."

It is the camera that catches your imagination.  If you do not use your imagination, you will wind up with just another photograph.  Where does the word image come from?  It comes from the word "imagination". Not from lens, noise levels, sharpness, color balance.  Ansel Adams did not have PhotoShop to play around with.
Ansel Adams, went into the wilderness for months at a time.  He became inspired by what was around him.  He wanted to reflect his inspiration through his images and use his creativity.  He felt blogged down by all the commercial photography he felt forced to do for survivals sake. 

Adams made sharp images seventy years ago without worrying about how sharp his lenses were.  The lenses of the 1930's were much slower than they are today, about f/5.6.  The equipment you use, only helps to get the job done faster and easier.

What did Adams do?  He was eighteen years old taking a long trip into the wildreness, with a donkey, 100 pounds of gear and food, and a 30 pound sack of photographic equipment.  He lugged tri-pods, camera's, and portable darkrooms.

In 1915, he used his Box Brownie
In 1916 he used a Pocket Kodak and a 4x5 view
He used a Zeiss Millifles
a 6-1/2 x 8 1/2 glass plate camera
4 x 5 camera
35mm (he called miniture)

Adams said, "If we had very heavy cameras we simply didn't go so far or take so many pictures. Knowing what I know now, any photographer worth his salt could make some beautiful things with pinhole cameras."

He like using a large format camera 8x10.  His favorite medium format camera was a 6x6.  For the last 20 years of his life, he used a Hasselblad medium format, which he created the famous "Mood and Half Dome" image.

In his portrait image, he is holding a Hasselblad 500 C/M

Ansel Adams - Saguaro Cactus, Sunrise, Arizona 1946
Other than being inspired an having large or medium format camera's what did he do?
Adams liked to control the depth of field, by adjusting the film plane and the lens, with the relationships of objects in the frame, with tilt and rise and fall movements.  Doing these things, he was able to alter the perspective to what he desired, controlling rise movements or increasing depth of field by making the lens standard tilt down.

Adams tilted the lens standard of his view camera in order to extend his depth of field, close to infinity.  1) by stopping his view camera down as far as he could and 2) using the camera's movements to take advantage of the Scheimpflug theory. (shift horizontally to make perfect parallel lines)

Typical digital lenses cannot achieve the same perspective as a view camera because of the physics involved.  When the film plan and the lens plane are rigid, we can have a measure of control over the depth of field and perspective, but we are limited.

You can tilt the camera, with a regular lens on it and the parallel lines converge.  Threes and other elements in the frame can look like they are falling backward.  This is the rise and fall movements.

You can purchase tilt lenses, but you will need to use your camera on total manual.  Forget the auto focus and sensors.  The tilting, stretches out the depth of field so you can frame easier without distortion.

Adams developed all his own film, using a small space in his parents home, and while in the field.  He first used matte and changed to glossy paper to increase the tonal values.  He spoke often about using the natural light and small apertures with long exposures.  Adams also suggested to "visualize" each image before taking it.  This means, taking your time, walking around looking at things from different points of view.

Adams, was a promoter of "pure photography" "Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.' Soft focus lenses were prohibited, but in Adams earlier work of the Monolith, he used a strong red filter to create a black sky.  Adams mounted a camera platform on the top of his station wagon, to get a better vantage point over the immediate foreground and a better angle for expansive backgrounds.  Most of his images from 1943 forward were made from the roof of his car.

Adams developed the "zone System" of controlling and relating exposure and development, enabling photographers to creatively visualize an image and produce a photograph that matched and expressed that visualization.

Ansel Adams Technical Books:
    * Making a Photograph, 1935.
    * Camera and Lens: The Creative Approach, 1948. ISBN 0-8212-0716-4
    * The Negative: Exposure and Development, 1948. ISBN 0-8212-0717-2
    * The Print: Contact Printing and Enlarging, 1950. ISBN 0-8212-0718-0
    * Natural Light Photography, 1952. ISBN 0-8212-0719-9
    * Artificial Light Photography, 1956. ISBN 0-8212-0720-2
    * Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, 1983. ISBN 0-8212-1750-X
    * The Camera, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2184-1
    * The Negative, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2186-8
    * The Print, 1995. ISBN 0-8212-2187-6 (Wikipedia)

18 August 2011

Kodak No.1 Box Brownie

Kodak No.1 Box Brownie
Susan Brannon
18 August 2011
The Kodak No.1 Box Brownie was Ansel Adams first camera.
This camera was first rollfilm camera bearing the new brand name "Kodak", patented and introduced in 1888. It used Eastman stripping negative film. The Kodak No. 1 of 1889 resembled the Kodak, but featured a more sophisticated shutter.  It was discontinued in 1916.

The cost? $1!

In use, the shutter was set by pulling a string; the camera was sighted by looking along a V-shape on the top of the camera. The shutter was tripped by pressing a button on the camera's side. After exposure, the key was used to wind the film to the next frame. The film moved past a shaft, rotating it, which caused a pointer visible on the top of the camera to rotate, so the photographer could be sure of advancing the correct amount of film.

Once one hundred pictures had been taken, the user sent the whole camera back to Kodak for film processing and reloading - at a cost of $10[1]. A hundred round negatives with a diameter of 65mm came from each roll of Eastman American Film. The round image was a design decision, partly as a way of ensuring that the photographer didn't have to hold the camera exactly level with the horizon, and partly to compensate for the poor image quality at the corners of the image. These first Kodak cameras were designed by George Eastman in collaboration with a cabinetmaker, Frank A. Brownell, who set up the production line at Eastman's factory. They are beautifully built, with box joints and strong leather covering.
Of course, those were the days when a photographer had to carry all kinds of equipment along with him and develop his own film.  I still like the medium format images the best for landscape, portraits and documentary photography.  I still like to develop my own film and yes, I have used the dodge technique that Adam's designed.  They sure do help the clouds come out fabulous!
Just for fun, I decided to look and see if I can find one of these boxes and how much are they now?
Well, I found one on E-Bay for 33 dollars, the person said that it was in "mint condition"
that was the only one that I found.  Here you can find the history and development of the Kodak cameras.
If you find one of these camera's at a garage sale, look to make sure that it does not leak light. The No.1 uses 620 film which may be hard to get, but if you go to a professional camera store they can find it for you.  You may be able to find the film online.  The images are soft with a nostalgic feel to it! They will not look like digital images.  Here is a link on how to use a Brownie Box!  Where to get manuals and more the brownie website.

17 August 2011

Ansel Adams: Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox

Ansel Adams - Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox
Susan Brannon
17 August 2011
Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox- Canyon de Chelly National Monument, 1937 It was unusual in Adam's photography to include human beings in his images.  When he did portraits, I feel that they were exquisite as reflected in this image of Georgia O'Keefe and Orville Cox.  I must say that I really like this image, and it is one of my favorites.  I adore the expression on Georgia O'Keeffe's face! The sky and clouds are high above their heads, their expressions are detailed and the lighting spectacular. 
 The story behind the image:
Orville Cox was the wrangler at Ghost Range and the guide on a several week trip taken by O'Keefe, Adams and others.  One interesting point of the photo is that it was taken with a 35 mm camera.

In September, 1937, David Hunter McAlpin organized a month-long camping trip throughout the Southwest with his friends Georgia O'Keeffe and photographer Ansel Adams. The result of this camping trip, a unique and rare set of photographic proofs made by Adams and later given to his friend McAlpin.

The group included McAlpin's cousins, Godfrey and Helen Rockefeller, and Ghost Ranch head wrangler Orville Cox, who would be an interpreter and guide. Adams brought three cameras, two view cameras and a 35mm Contax. O'Keeffe filled a station wagon with painting supplies. The group was delayed for two weeks in Abiquiu, at the Ghost Ranch while O'Keeffe finished some work. Then they hit the road.

"Everyone knows the classic Adams photos of highly shadowed desert landscapes. O'Keeffe's fascination with the light, landforms, and artifacts of the Southwest is also noted," says Curator of the Exhibition Stephen Jareckie. "These proofs show that landscape - stark, isolated, magnificent - just as these two artists saw it. For us to see these pictures, the majority of which have never been exhibited before, is to glimpse a place that was crucial and inspirational to two major American artists."

"What's important about these photographs is both documentary and artistic. These are real Adams pictures. Though they're casual, and were clearly done on the spot, they still retain Adams's customary pictorial structure," says Jareckie. "But these aren't just landscape pictures. There are also numerous snapshots of the camping group, which include revealing portraits of Georgia O'Keeffe that have not been published."  

After the death of Sarah Sage McAlpin in 2001 her heirs discovered a box containing nearly 300 small-format prints of photographs by Ansel Adams taken on this trip. Some of the images were probably as close as Adams came to taking "snapshots," but those displayed here are carefully prepared "proofs." In a number of cases Adams went on to make larger-format photographs of the same or slightly-altered views. The Ansel Adams Foundation has contact-sheets and negatives for many, if not all of these images, but in most cases these smaller images appear to be the only prints of these photos ever made by Adams himself.

16 August 2011

Ansel Adams: Thunderstorm Espanola Valley

Ansel Adams - Thunderstorm Espanola Valley © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust
This images cannot be printed or reproduced in any way. The use of the photograph is limited to viewing in the context of this web site.
15 August 2011
Thunderstorm, Espanola  Valley, 1961 - I could not find much information on this image, but for me, being a New Mexican, this image shows the intensity of the storms.  Form this location, you can see the storm coming from miles away because of the vast horizon in New Mexico, and the big sky that looms over head.  The light in this image is wonderful because you can see the suns reflections on the clouds and a bit of light falling on the hill.  This is one of his later images, and by then he had hiked around New Mexico since the 1940's.

In 1941 the Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, hired Adams to photograph lands and Native Americans under his department's jurisdiction. Adams intended to make some thirty-six photographic murals to hang on the walls of the Department of the Interior. He hoped that his powerful images hung in an emotionally progressive sequence would positively influence congressmen, lobbyists, and government officials. His job description read, "Photographic Muralist, Grade FCS-19, " and his contract was effective from Oct. 14, 1941 to July 2, 1942. At the same time Adams was saddled with his duties as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Department of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art which he had helped found in 1940. Thus, he was unable to start the mural project until June of 1942 when he headed west to make negatives. He planned to photograph in Colorado, Yellowstone, the Tetons, Glacier National Park, Mount Rainier and Crater Lake. Given his late start and the fact that World War II prevented his contract from being renewed, he made a number of now classic photographs, but never finished the mural project for the Department of the Interior.
I am sure that the New Mexican light had a lot to do with Ansel Adams returning to capture images.  There is a magic in our light and landscape that seems to offer inspiration to artists from around the world.

15 August 2011

Ansel Adams: Church Doors Taos Pueblo

Church Taos Pueblo - 1942 National Archives, Department of Interior
Church Taos Pueblo - 1942 National Archives, Department of Interior (Angle 2)
Susan Brannon
15 August 2011

Church Taos Pueblo-Doors, and Angle 2 -Ansel Adams-  1942.   This is a good place for photographing in black and white because of the light. In the first image, the walls line up symmetrically to the closed door of the church.  In the second image, most likely taken at the same time, the church geometric s stand out and the door cannot be seen.  A good photo, is knowing where to stand.  We can see that Adam's shot the church from at least two angles.  Which one do you like best?  Both viewpoints have been made into posters and sold as prints all over the world.

14 August 2011

Ansel Adams: Acoma Pueblo

Ansel Adams - Acoma Pueblo - Public Domain Printed 1941
Susan Brannon
13 August 2011
Acoma Pueblo- 1933, Public Domain Printed 1941.  Ansel Adams took this image while he was working for the Department of Interior.  I believe that the photograph was taken just after a storm, because the pool of water on the dry Acoma mesa is an unusual scene.  The image is now a part of the National Archives.  The pueblo is a U.S. National Historic Landmark and Registered of Historic Places.  Adams was drawn to the stark, elemental beauty of the natural and built environment. In this image, Adam's focused entirely on shape, form and the interplay of dark and light.  The large, placid, oval pool of water in the foreground is balanced against a series of adobe buildings in the background.  The middle is a transitional zone, that is created by the reflection of the architecture in the pool.  The image transforms the cultural and political realities of the Pueblo into a quiet realm of timeless beauty.