Ansel vs. Weston and Other Topics

So… A long time follower of this little backwater of the internet asked me "what I have against Ansel Adams". My answer was quite simply "Nothing". Of course the conversation went on for quite a bit longer than that. I guess you could get the impression that I have something against good ol' Ansel if you take into account all of the shots that I have taken using his name on this site…

Let's see, if memory serves I have prolly said things like this:

  • Ansel Adams is a pedantic dick.
  • Blamed him and his moronic slights against Plus-X for it's untimely demise.
  • Falsely claimed to have made a set of Ansel Adams presets and then followed that up with a clarification that I was being sarcastic in more than one way considering I thought the whole concept of them would be 1. The most ridiculous and funny thing I could think of and 2. So completely against what he was about it made it doubly funny.
  • Claimed he couldn't make a good portrait or for that matter any picture with people in it to save his life.
  • Also articulated that the opinion that he needed to codify what other great photographers were doing for decades because he really didn't get it intuitively and then gave what everybody already knew a name.

I probably said some other stuff along those lines as well as had a mock conversation between him and Edward Weston that did not show him in a particularly flattering light. So I guess you could conclude that I have something against him. I don't not in the least. I think he's fine. I think he was passionate about what he did and how he liked to do it. Great - that's one of the awesome things about humanity. Lot's of diversity and as long as you pursue it with gusto you have my respect.

That doesn't mean it will float my particular boat or that it should. My snarky sarcastic comments are more about fan-boy-ism especially without knowledge, background, thought process, education, study, or any personal viewpoint. I happened to single out Good ol' AA because he's not around to hear me and because just about every single solitary person that has ever taken a photo says things along the lines of "ohh I love Ansel Adams". Huh? Really? And why is that? Ummmm cause ummm ummmm cause - you're supposed to I guess - everyone does.

I sort of see this the same way as how non-guitarists all tell guitarists that the best guitarist that ever lived was Jimi Hendrix and if you ask them why they think that it's like "cause he played with his teeth and behind his back and lit his guitar on fire and…" Hmmmmm not really his best work. Idiots.

So what does that have to do with anything - I was thinking that one of the true wonders of photography is not just subject matter. I could care less about taking images of wilderness and such - just doesn't do it for me. I also don't give a crap about getting all the tones in the scene to represent with equal amounts of contrast and detail on paper. Just doesn't float my photography boat.

What's absolutely magical about photography is that the same exact subject in the same exact light even on the same day is approached so different visually by different photographers. I myself got lost for years by making stuff in ways that just didn't float my boat. So much so that when approaching a subject I had no idea which particular way I wanted to represent it any longer. I thought way too much about how other people might like if I represented it one particular way or another. From my point of view it became arbitrary. One way - the other way - whatever doesn't really matter. It's just an exercise.

That's the point here - it is important how you choose to represent it and after you have learned a couple of things you really do have an endless variety of choice at any given moment. Figuring out what floats your boat is the key for this endeavor having any meaning.

I make fun of HDR guys as well - some of it is really really bad HDR but when I make fun it's of the good stuff that is pretty much a very very complicated set of ND filters and burning and dodging and red lith masks etc etc that has been done for a long time before digital. Not because this is the "wrong" way to approach something. It's just that it doesn't float my artistic boat nor does the subject matter that somehow "requires" that approach. AA in this particular day and age would prolly be an HDR guy of one sort or another.

In many ways I consider this type of representation as a technical exercise that attempts to represent the way something actually looks. That's just me and how I see it. I personally identify more with somehow trying to render how things feel to me. On rare occasions I am successful at doing that by my own yardstick. That's what I am interested in so that is the kind of work I try to do and the photographers who's work I enjoy looking at.

The magical part comes in that even though photographers that probably have the same bent as I do, if it were articulated, will still approach the same subject, with the same light in so so many completely different ways. I articulated this in a much more succinct and different way while commenting on the VSCO film 03 presets. Same stuff given to two different people and way way different stuff pops out the back. Not better or worse - different. This is one of the reasons I really like the implementation. Some treatments that I would never do I love and still would not do them. Some I may try - at least from a feeling point of view and others I don't really like. Doesn't mean they are wrong. Other products are not quite as universal - I don't particularly like those - I can tell from a mile away exactly what was used and even if combined with countless other ingredients sort of has it's own signature that screams at you.

Good tools have a few simple controls that don't lead you down one or a very small number of paths. Sort of like photography itself. I mean what have you got - ummm point of view, how close you stand, shutter speed, aperture, and light, when you press the button, and what you point your camera at. That's pretty much it.

I had to get that out there for two reasons - first again it's the amazing part of this endeavor. Highlighted by Patrick Laroque's choice of subject matter (typically similar to mine - at least in my past), similar lighting conditions in many cases, same range of focal lengths, prolly similar goals in terms of "how it feels" heck even now some of the same "presets". Even so - completely different approach and completely different visuals. Amazing - look at his latest post, great images.

Now the image at the top is pretty much my take on the same lighting conditions as a few of his shots - coincidentally I shot these Monday or Tuesday and used the same presets. Welcome to the magic of photography. No it's not all in the post. In fact that is just a condiment in both cases.

The second reason is that when I write things on this blog that are supposed to be educational I do let my own opinion and taste be known so people can know where I am coming from. I strive to talk about choice and "the why" rather than some prescription to follow. I hope that I am successful at that occasionally and when I do any sort of step by step attempt to offer alternatives and other paths that can be followed. I have tried to do it in the couple of eBooks as well. If I stray from that please let me know.

I wanted to talk about this second reason as a pre-announcement for some things I have been working on that I am pretty excited about. A series of eBooks - well more like eFieldGuides. Instead of some giant tome that tries to boil the ocean in a single volume each will be focused on one particular scenario of lighting with lot's of variations on the theme and what results they produce and why and the hopefully all of the variables and knobs that you can control in each particular scenario and why what looks like what. Again all about choices and ideas for you to take your own path. The first one will be out very soon in a handy-dandy format.

Obviously you can't give me any feedback until you see one but what you can do is let me know what sort of priorities you have in the order I produce them. The first one is way down the road so the next ones are what I am talking about. I have a list about a mile long of various existing light/natural light/strobe etc in all sorts of situations so you name it and I bet it's on my list. Let me know if you have a particular thing in mind as important to you.



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