New York Daily Photo Analytics

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kind Of

I am pleased to learn that although my photographic talents are not in the league of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams, at least my thinking is. In 1952, Cartier-Bresson published his book Images à la sauvette. The English edition was titled The Decisive Moment, not The Machine Gun.

It is easy to fall into a machine gun approach, a style favored by so many photographers today, particularly with digital photography, where shooting is essentially free. For many, there is a secure in thinking that if you take enough photos, you will assuredly get a good one.

Remarkably, Bresson believed in composing his photographs completely in the camera's viewfinder, not in the darkroom - nearly all his photographs are printed only at full-frame and completely free of any cropping or other darkroom manipulation. Ansel Adams was notorious for his patience and circumspection in waiting for the right moment to take a photograph.

In addition, the entire process of shooting in a machine gun approach, and reviewing hundreds of photos is mind numbing and works against the production of interesting photographs. When shooting events like parades, I am lured into this practice, seeing the event as an opportunity at cataloging and results that show it, with very few, if any, memorable photos.

I recall having a conversation with a student at a major art school in New York City who was near completion of a degree in photography. When I asked about Ansel Adams, I was told they were not familiar with his work and had only "kind of" heard of him - they did not study him at school. I found it incredulous really. This is not an issue of likes or dislikes. How can you give someone a degree in photography and not do at least a cursory examination of Ansel Adams?

The black-and-white photographs of the American West by Ansel Adams are recognizable around the world. With Fred Archer, Adams developed the Zone System, still in use by some today and applicable to color and digital photography. He has been the subject of a Ric Burns PBS documentary. In 1932, Adams formed Group f/64 with Edward Weston. Adams played a key role in the establishment of the first museum department of photography, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. You can find the websites of Ansel Adams here and here. The website of Henri Cartier-Bresson is here.

The conversation with the photography student prompted me to notice the framed poster in today's photo, placed prominently near a garbage can on Broadway in NoHo. Apparently the owner had heard of Ansel Adams, and disposing of this poster was due to the apparent water damage and not any "kind of" statement about Adams :)


René said...

Major art school, and never heard of Ansel Adams?

Now I fully expect to hear about a Juilliard student stumped by the name Beethoven.

Last night, during one of his street forays, Jay Leno asked a guy "very interested in movies" if he knew who Humphrey Bogart was. He didn't.

Too elitist, no doubt.

Gailsman said...

It's amazing that Adams is unknown to the student. I would have thought the student would know the names of at least the top 10 photographers, like HCB, Man Ray, Robert Capra etc.

it's a sad ending to such a great poster.

Nathalie said...

Thanks for this most interesting commentary. Sad state of affairs when studying masters is no longer considered an important part of the curriculum.

I tend to crop my photos quite often - certainly because I don't take the time to compose them well enough before shooting. But many times the circumstances don't allow for much time unless you're prepared to spend a full hour in the same spot, which i'm not.

I find cropping is my main tool to give punch to a photo that would otherwise be quite insignificant. Let's say I'm not Cartier Bresson :-)

Great find here - there's sadness in it but also hope - surely the (seemingly) perfectly good frame will be picked up by someone and reused. I like recycling! My grandmother used to find lots of lovely things thrown away by other people.

Ennuipoet said...

I'm working hard to stop machine gunning, a bad habit I developed upon switching to digital. One of the best methods was to go back to film, even though I develop at home it slows down the trigger finger and makes you think about composition and content. Now, when I shoot digital I find myself thinking "film" resulting in fewer photos of better composition.

Brian Dubé said...

René - I knew this would resonate with u.
Nathalie - I don't think cropping is a sin. Bresson's technique is admirable but obviously takes much more time in composition.
Ennuipoet - I have never developed that habit. No stomach for viewing and processing so many photos later.

shmnyc said...

I do the same thing, composing the photo in the frame instead of cropping later. I don't mind cropped photos, and I used to do it before I started shooting digital photos, but the switch to composing in the frame coincided with switching to digital.

I was never one to take "too many" photos. In fact, I generally take too few!