Saturday, 7 February 2015

Responding to Ansel Adams: a Documentary

Hi Diane,
I thought I was going to get my review in first this week but no, you beat me to it again! But that's OK because now I have questions to answer making my post all that easier to write !

Before I watched this all I knew about Ansel Adams was that he was 'that guy who did the black and white photos of America'. So I was interested to learn more, but I was kind of disappointed with the film that way It did tell his personal story but in a sort of factual dispassionate way. I was very aware that  my response to it was that I wanted to know far more about the people, in particular his relationship with Patsy English, his dark room assistant, who as said to be the 'love of his life' but for whom he decided not to leave his wife. I want to know if Virginia, his wife. knew Patsy was the love of his life and how she felt about that.

My reactions to his photographs were noticeably similar. They achieve exactly what he wants them to, i.e to show the vast emptiness and the size and grandeur of Yosemite, yet that was the very reason that, whilst I can see the beauty, both in the landscape and in his pictures, I don't emotionally respond to them. There are no people in them. The one photo of his that did make my heart leap a little was in fact the one you chose to illustrate your  post, Moon Over Hernandez. ( That's the second time we've done that, chosen the same photo - I think that says a lot about us, don't you?) But for me it was because it was one that said something about the people who lived in this landscape. How isolated, how remote and how so many were dead! It may have been the way the photo was panned over in the film for cinematography purposes but to be honest, I never noticed the moon. It was those white crosses that drew me.

And of course that say something about the relationship between art and viewer, viewer and art doesn't it. whatever an artist sets out to do, whether he achieves it or not should be for him to judge because the viewer will bring to  it their own interpretations and judgements.

 Art also has a role I think in helping the view understand themselves. As we try to figure out what we see in a picture or how we feel about a sculpture, we can observe the thought and feelings they engender and that can be informative and even healing. Certainly watching this film helped me clarify that, although I am happily exploring all areas of photography as a beginner at the moment, my natural pull is to people and story telling and I should probably follow my bliss in that direction. My Dad on the other hand would love these mountains and spaces. I must send him the film and get him to write his reaction for us!

I know that you have done some traditional darkroom photography in your day but I never have, so the mysteries of exactly how Adams developed his plates ( and indeed what a glass plate even is) are lost to me. This was a documentary about the man ( in so far as that went) but I would have liked more detail about how he did his work.  I know very little about famous photographers or historical techniques but I have a mind to learn. I see that Tom Ang has a book about the history of photography and I have added that to my reading list for the future

Your comments about the darkroom work being an important part of the image making made me think of an article I read ay the gym recently by David duChemin. (Reading photography material in the iPad at the gym is my new way to make the boredom go away and David DuChemin is a Canadian humanitarian photographer whose writing really resonates with me. he conveniently blogs well and produces ebooks and an amazing magazine call Photograph via his site Craft and Vision which makes him prime gym company material!)

Anyway, he wrote an article in which he said in essence that we should stop using the term 'post-processing' to talk about the work we do in the dark room be it traditional or digital because there is no 'post' about it. It is all part of the image making, all part of the creative process.

You asked me sone questions in your post:
As I was watching this, I was imagining your seeing it and wondering what you'd think.  Can you identify a British photographer who is as famous to the UK as Adams is to the US?  Do Adams' photographs seem less relevant to you because the landscape is not a familiar one?  Is there work you know of (from any photographer) whose images capture the English landscape in such a definitive way?
I have to say (and this probably shows my aforementioned ignorance of photography and my own predilections ) I can't identify a single British landscape photographer. (The shame! More Amazon order of photography books are required clearly.) But Adam's work is not irrelevant because the landscape is to familiar. In part I think that because his work is so famous that he helped not make it unfamiliar! Its certainly very American but actually that makes it all the more appealing to me for not being familiar and therefore boring to me. The film did make me want to travel to see Yosemite, although I vote for taking the plane they filmed from for the aerial views not doing the hiking!

As for our ext film, when I am dying to watch City of God ( and its follow up which is not technically on the list!)  but I see I will have to order the DVD of that from Amazon which may take some time so until I can be sure that will arrive in time I am going to veer us away from documentaries for a while towards Proof which appears to be a black comedy about a blind photographer. Its available free on You Tube here. I had no idea until you found Born into Brothels that you could get whole movie son You Tube. Its amazing! City of God is on there so you may be able to get it but its blocked in the UK. Bah!

But, entirely unrelated to photography I was exploring and I see you can get the National Theatre production of Oklahoma here which features the actress Maureen Lipman I mentioned to you once. She plays Aunt Ella. I love her and will travel all over to see her in things.  I once saw her in a matinee at the Theatre in Bath and walked straight out of the side door of the theatre after the production, walked round into the box office and bough the last viable ticket to see that evenings performance so good was she. This production transferred to a larger theatre at a time when I was frequently working alone in London. They had 100 seats for £10 available on the day and I saw this over and over and over and over!  There was something different in it every time. It features Hugh Jackman as well which is never a bad thing now is it?

Anyway, I digress, Let me know what you think of Proof.


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