Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.
We’re all artists inside somewhere. Maybe some animals are, too. But most of us can’t quite make it happen. We die with our music unexpressed. Most of us don’t believe in our visions or ourselves enough to work at finding a medium and developing the tools to give us access to our talent. A few of us, however, forge the keys that open the passage, and beauty streams out.
My husband and I recently attended an exhibition of Ansel Adams’ black-and-white photographs. “Oh, yes,” most of us say. “I’ve seen them.” And nearly all of us have examined reproductions. I was thinking of my favorite images of his work I’ve seen represented elsewhere as I entered the gallery. “I know what to expect.” Wrong again. Ansel Adams’ photographs are not like the reproductions. Not. At. All. A couple of images brought tears to my eyes.
The brochure that came with the exhibition quotes Adams as saying, “You don’t take a photograph; you make it.” The images in the gallery were not pictures of pretty places. They were art. My husband explained the difference to me as he has many times before. First, Adams used astounding patience and acumen about times of day, seasons, weather, and natural angles and lighting as a starting place. Wildlife photographers must do the same. But Adams’ genius lay in the magic he created in the darkroom with his chemicals and equipment—manipulating tones, emphasizing contrast, and sharing the magnificence he saw in his mind. Others who reproduce an exact (and I mean exact) landscape picture Adams shot with his camera don’t come up with the same product. Because the product came out of Ansel Adams, not merely nature.
Late in life, my husband discovered his weird perspective his “elders” mocked when he was a child was, in fact, a unique view of shapes, shadows, and lighting with which he was born. He embraced the principles espoused by Ansel Adams as guidelines for the magic he wanted to create. Unfortunately, his revelation came too late. Darkroom photography was slipping into obsolescence. Now we have a complete darkroom but no market for images that have to be expensive to break even, and nowhere to sell or even donate his equipment. Local photographers shrug and say, “It’s all digital now,” and they aren’t exaggerating. Finding film, chemicals, or places to dispose of used materials is a daunting task at best—always costly. My husband, who didn’t have time or funds to develop the skills and confidence he would need to defy trends, surrendered.
Digital photography is far more convenient, economical, safer, and more ecologically sound than the old techniques, but its strengths lie in different directions from the previous black-and-white darkroom images. Photographs taken with smart phones are sold as art, and maybe it’s good that more people feel empowered to notice the world around them. But only the most Photoshop-savvy photographer can approach artistry. The nature of the loss depends on your perspective. But the fact remains: only those with the most doggedly artistic souls can become true creators—regardless of the medium.