Saturday, August 29, 2009

Painting with Light

After arriving at the Visitor’s Center at Yosemite NP, we stopped at the Ansel Adams Gallery to see some of the master’s photographs.

Yosemite’s granite walls seemed ideal “subjects” for black and white photography. Feeling inspired by the photographs and Yosemite’s granite, I thought I would try my hand at taking some black and white photos. The results of these efforts are presented here for your review, although I would certainly understand if you, dear readers, were to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s statement to Dan Quayle in the ’88 Vice Presidential Debates and conclude: “Chuck, you’re no Ansel Adams.”

In 1914, at age 12, Ansel Adams was suffering from measles, which at that time was a serious illness. When he recovered, his father decided to homeschool him, and part of his education was a yearlong pass to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. At the Expo, Ansel roamed through the art, music, and science exhibits. He especially loved studying paintings, fascinated by the artists’ use of light and shadow.

While on a family vacation at the age of fourteen, he was introduced to the expanse of California’s Yosemite Valley and was given a Kodak Box Brownie camera. These two seemingly small events strongly influenced the course of Adams’ life.

He hiked around Yosemite with his new Brownie camera, taking some 30 photographs of mountains, waterfalls, and meadows. When he developed the film, he was not happy with the results.

Soon thereafter, Adams met Frank Dittman, who owned a film developing business. He worked in Dittman's shop for no pay just to learn about photography. To understand the process of going from the image to the finished photograph, Adams kept complete records of the type of film, lens, and filters used and the place, time of day, amount of light and shadow of each photo he took.

At age 18 and for the next three summers, he worked for the Sierra Club in Yosemite, leading hiking expeditions and taking many, many excellent photos.

Early in the twentieth century, photography was not considered a creative art; Adams intended to change that. He had seen how the use of light and shadow in paintings could bring them to life, and he wanted to use his camera to paint with light.

Ansel would decide carefully on the subject for each photograph he took, then choose the angle from which to take it, sometimes hiking for miles to get to the best vantage point. He studied the movement of sun and clouds, often waiting hours for the perfect light with which to “paint” his picture.

Over his lifetime, Ansel Adams created over forty thousand photographs. Many of them were taken in the wilderness areas that he loved best.

“Once completed,” he said, “the photograph must speak for itself,” and the stunning photographs he took speak volumes.

Mine shown here . . . maybe a small notebook?

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