Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1997/10/31

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Subject: Ansel Adams
From: Jim Brick <>
Date: Fri, 31 Oct 1997 11:01:07 -0800


I'm not sure how Ansel got into this spot. Ansel was a very very dedicated
person. He went after his passion with a vengeance. He is probably
partially responsible for some of our scenic places remaining scenic. Over
the years, I ran into Ansel, now and again, out in the field, along the
California coast, etc. I live 70 miles from where he lived. He was a very
nice person. He always had good things to say and indeed loved sharing his
knowledge and techniques.

I have seen straight prints of Ansel's negatives and they look most
ordinary. What many people don't know is that the spectacular prints he
produced were truly created in the darkroom, using every trick in the book.
No digital back then, but plenty of masks, flashing, potassium
ferricyanide, straight developer, etc. The main thing was that there was
enough information in the negative to allow producing the beautiful print.
No blocked highlights, no black abyss shadows. Zone system negatives that
contain all of the information possible. From that, he was able to
manipulate the process of print making, to a very very fine art. A master
at his craft. No one will ever be able to print his negatives as he did.

Ansel's photographs are of ordinary things. Rocks, streams, granite walls,
vast valleys, etc. The dynamics of his prints, of these very ordinary
subjects, is awesome. He always felt that his talent/contribution was his
print quality. That is what the public saw. We all know it was more than
that. He had an extraordinary eye and a talent for being able to create awe
inspiring "art" from ordinary subjects. He was able to impart emotion into
inanimate objects.

How many photographers have tried to emulate Ansel Adams? Countless. There
are a few who have succeeded. John Sexton comes to mind immediately. John
worked for Ansel so I would expect a similar capability. But most have
failed. Ansel may have had a single minded vision, but that vision was
executed magnificently. I attended an Ansel Adams exhibition at the de
Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, SFO. Many of the prints were huge. Like
four feet by five feet, maybe larger (a guess). They were perfectly
lighted, and were so gorgeous, they brought tears to many people's eyes
(mine included).