When I was just getting into photography Ansel Adams was the first major photographer that I knew and that made an impression on me. I have a vague memory (possibly faulty) that his photograph: “Moonrise Hernandez Mexico” had recently become the most valuable photograph in the world. I also recall that someone had loaned me his book “The Camera”. Until then I’d been buying “gear” thinking it would dramatically improve my photographs (of course it didn’t). Then I saw some pictures in his book taken with a pinhole camera. This convinced me that it isn’t the “gear” that makes the picture it’s the photographer. For a while, influenced by Adams, I thought I wanted to be a landscape photographer.

Later, as I got deeper into photography, I got to know other famous photographers: e.g. Weston, Strand, Evans, Cartier-Bresson, Atget etc. I realized that other genres (e.g. documentary photography; abstract photography) appeal to me more than landscape. I also realized that photographs by other photographers provoked more of a reaction in me than Adams’ landscapes. I still consider Adams’ photographs to be technical masterpieces. I also recognize his influence on photography – as a photographer, advocate and teacher. I just don’t find his photographs as “earth shattering” as I once did. I also find his categorical rejection of all photographic styles other than the pure photography he espoused hard to take. To me no single style is intrinsically better than another. It’s the quality of the end product that counts.

I enjoyed this documentary. I was nice to actually see and hear John Szarkowski. I’d heard about him and I own a number of books written by him, but this was the first time I’d actually seen him speak.

I also missed a few things I’d expected to find. I recently finished a book on “Group F.64“, the famous US West Coast group of photographers (Adams was a member) that broke away from pictorialism in favor of pure or straight photography. A very influential group that wasn’t mentioned in the documentary. I also found it strange that there was no mention of the Zone System or Adam’s famous trilogy of books (The Camera; The Negative and The Print) was not mentioned. In fact his role as an educator was rather downplayed.

Leave a Reply