Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Photography & Books: Ansel Adams' The Camera & merican Grotesque : The Life and Art of William Mortensen

Image from Locky's English Playground

I really have not been writing my blog enough. All my focus has been put to writing my thesis draft and my own research. I ask myself, is there really nothing I can write about while I focus on my research?

Recently, I am trying to find clues of understanding the meanings of images, and where to look for these interpretations? I suppose no better than from the masters of photography -- if you want to learn something, learn from the best.

In 1966, Ansel Adams visited UC Irvine to photograph its distinctive new buildings as part of a project commissioned by UC President Clark Kerr to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the University of California. Adams took more than 100 photographs of the new Irvine campus. They were published in a commemorative book titled Fiat Lux, after the university’s motto, which means “let there be light.”
Caption and image from UC Irvine

Widely known as the master of black-and-white landscape photography and his work at the Yellowstone National Park, Ansel Adams is the definitive photographic role model for everyone. Whether you are a fan of Adams or not, if you have never heard of Ansel Adams, there is a good chance that you actually do not know photography.

Tetons and Snake River
Image by Ansel Adams, from National Archive
But after reading this book called Ansel Adams : The Camera, I sure have learned more about photography and a lot about older cameras, but little on how to read an image. Obviously, this book is not meant to teach the reading of photographs, but I was hoping he would leak a bit of his insights through his explanation of visualization. Too bad, the most relevant line was this,

"All such impressions are partly subjective, and there are no rules that must be followed. We should follow instead the dictates of our visualization." (Adams, 1995, p.106)

Image from Locky's English Playground

Coincidentally, I was reading another book called American Grotesque : The Life and Art of William Mortensen, and it was interesting to find how much hatred Adams had for Mortensen, another master but of a very different philosophy.

In terms of relevance to my research, Mortensen provided something more,

"Photography, like any other art, is a form of communication. The artist is not blowing bubbles for his own gratification, but is speaking a language, is telling somebody something. Three corollaries are derived from this proposition.

a. As a language, art fails unless it is clear and unequivocal in saying what it means.
b. Ideas may be communicated, not things.
c. Art expresses itself, as all languages do, in terms of symbols.

I am still trying to relate these information but I have a feeling I might be getting something.

Ansel Adams Gallery