Ansel Adams

Aspen Leaf, Chaffee County

Aspen Leaf, Chaffee County

Aspen Leaf, Chaffee County

Ansel Adams was fond of saying, “The negative is the score, the print is the performance.” I agree. The digital negative for black-and-white is the beginning; from there, we create a musical performance with the image. I was frustrated for years with Photoshop’s challenges in the black-and-white arena, but when NIK’s Silver Efex Pro emerged, I was overjoyed. Many of the techniques I had used in the darkroom, such as high-contrast developers, paper choices, proper filters, as well as push or pull processing, could now be replicated digitally.

This image is an example of creating the performance.

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Aspens, Chaffee County

Aspens, Chaffee County

Aspens, Chaffee County

Aspens moved Ansel Adams, and for good reason. The mountains of the West are fraught with shadows, especially in the early morning and late evening hours of the day, making a dramatic backdrop for the whitewashed splendor of one of nature’s largest communities. What do I mean? Aspens groves are a single organism, connected below ground by an interconnected network of roots. They are as one, a suitable metaphor for our own relationship with the world.

New Student Work: Chloe Ekberg

Omaha Fashion Week, by Chloe Ekberg Hastings College Junior Photojournalism Student

Omaha Fashion Week, by Chloe Ekberg
Hastings College Junior Photojournalism Student

Chloe Ekberg is one of the finest student photographers with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working. Her talent is exceptional, as is her drive; in fact, the critical difference in this business of professional photography is just that, drive. There are many, many visually acute people, but few take the initiative to train–truly train. That process means high levels of constructive criticism, technical mastery, and repeated visual exercise.

Chloe does just that, and often just for fun. See her photos at her blog.

Her work from the Omaha Fashion Show is stunning at a level that spurred me to call a colleague of mine who works for one of Nebraska’s largest newspapers (Chloe already works for them as a freelancer), and encourage him to start passing her name around as much as possible. That’s not something I do very often; as my students will attest, as well as my colleagues in the business, I’m very hard to please photographically–especially by myself or my students. For example, I don’t allow my students to use any setting except manual. Why? I’m a student of Ansel Adams, who also felt that in order to be a virtuoso (either on the piano or camera), one had to be a technical master. Chloe is well on her way to this level of expertise.

Take a look. You’ll be impressed–especially since she’s not even a senior in college.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Bluff, Power and Blacktop, Dawes County

Bluff and Power Lines, Dawes County

Bluff and Power Lines, Dawes County

A central theme in my “PlainSky, Nebraskans” project is how power structures, like these power poles along Highway 2 in northern Dawes County, are so ubiquitous for Nebraskans that they simply fade from many residents’ visions. Yet, these constructions define in two ways how residents and visitors view the natural beauty of the state; first, the landscape is frequently framed by the poles and wires. Second, since the infinite lines of poles often follow highways, visitors and residents seldom see the Nebraska landscape as separate from these man-made monoliths.

Thus, I resolved to express the landscape of the wilds as not so…wild. Blacktop and power. This is where I differ in philosophy from one of my inspirations, Ansel Adams; I have chosen to exhibit not just a celebration of the emotion of the landscape, but humanity’s desecration of that same view.

As evidence of this philosophy, the effects of that blacktop state of mind in Nebraska often leads to travelers’ disregard for the natural world. Look closely in the image: a half-empty bottle of soda (pop, as Nebraskans call it), tossed from a moving vehicle, finally stopping to rest to the side of the view of the butte. I found it an essential part of the image.

But after I finished the image, I picked the bottle up, put it in the back of my pickup, took it to Chadron with me, dumped it out, and recycled the bottle.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Sandstone Ridges, Sand Creek Badlands

Sandstone Ridges, Sand Creek Badlands

Sandstone Ridges, Sand Creek Badlands

Like countless other photographers, I have been influenced by Ansel Adams: his use of the full tonal range within an image, his use of depth, his creation of visual poetry. On my last trip to northwest Nebraska (what my friend Sam calls “The Lost Corner of Nebraska”), I made a number of images of which I’m quite proud, including a number of black and whites. Those photographs are tributes to Adams’ influence in my life.

This is one of them.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Tribute to Hernandez, Harrison

Tribute to Hernandez, Harrison

Tribute to Hernandez, Harrison

Like many photographers in the past 80 years, I defined my early career in landscapes through the imitation of Ansel Adams; though unoriginal, my photographs were informed and sculpted in their content by careful observation of Adams’ use of tone, surfaces and layers. Twenty years later, I still make careful use of Adams’ and Archers’ zone theories (though not as applicable for digital) when I compose, and some of Adams’ compositional techniques, albeit subconsciously.

Thus, on a winter day at sunset in Harrison, I walked south of town on the highway and found the same warm light glinting off the headstones of the Harrison cemetery, much the way that light did for Adams as he passed the town of Hernandez, New Mexico, so many years ago.

Thanks, Ansel.