Blog Author Richard Newman

Wow, could I get myself in a whole lot of trouble writing about this? Well, I’m gonna take a chance! We all know him for his photographs, but Ansel Adams was also a teacher, mentor and writer of the highest order.

Always the teacher, Ansel was instrumental in establishing the photography program at Art Center College of Design where he first taught the Zone System. He was also the originator of the concept of the photo workshop with his annual Yosemite classes. Both accomplishments that anyone could hang their hat on; and in so doing, he inspired several generations of photographers. But it was through his writings that he reached the largest number of aspiring photographic artists.

Ansel started writing early, and he didn’t hold back. His repeated letters to the president of the United States and Congress were instrumental in the development of the National Parks. His photographs and text on the Manzinar War Relocation Center during World War II were largely ignored because it was such a controversial subject.

Ansel couldn’t pick up the cell phone, but through his writings he was able to refine his ideas and his methods. Through his first series of 5 books, he dissected every aspect of picture-making. His concept of pre-visualization was ground breaking, making the medium conform to his ideas and vision. Books #4 and #5 in this series dealt with natural and artificial light, rounding out a true photographic education.

Then came the MONSTERS. His 5 books were revised down to 4 by Little Brown publishing and went on to become every fine-art, black-and-white photographer’s bibles. He examined in close detail The Camera and all it could do in Book #1. Book #2, The Negative, looked at processing black and white film like no one had before. His tests and procedures are still the standard today. If you read it carefully and practiced what is contained, your own negatives get better and—surprise!—magically so do your final prints. Book #3, The Print, is a force of nature in terms of making a great final print. Book #4, Polaroid Land Photography, is, in my opinion, one of his very best in that it really clarifies his vision. Unfortunately, it’s hard to come by today.

If you only read 1 of Ansel’s books, I would strongly recommend Letters. It not only gives great insight into understanding his thoughts, but also those of his many friends and artistic peers. Finally, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, is a fantastic blueprint to the darkroom and how he created some of his finest work.

Who else provides such insight? Ansel held no cards to his chest. He played, and shared them all! 

Read. And, then email me (!

If you have book one, give it back

The big 4

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