Ansel Adams In Color - edited by Harry M. Callahan

Caroline and I recently went to a fantastic exhibition of Ansel Adams at the National Maritime Museum. It was a real eye-opener. My knowledge of Ansel Adams was almost non-existent before. The exhibition had plenty of his photos, with good captions and towards the end there was a documentary section on him, it gave you a really good feel for him and his work.

I'd kinda assumed that, given he was producing black-and-white photos of landscapes, that he'd be something of a naturalist and luddite. I also assumed he'd always been big. It turns out that he was somewhat invented as a star rather late in his career, but from the footage and information provided it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy! He seemed very pleasant and thoughtful in the material in the exhibition, and this actually comes across in the letters in the book, too.

He was anything but a luddite. He was a technical master, and hugely manipulated his images in the darkroom, dodging and burning to get just what he wanted. He was also an expert at control of the camera, to give him the material he needed to produce those photos. He likened it to having a score and giving a performance. He didn't avoid colour because he was a luddite, he avoided it because it didn't give him the control he wanted - if the technology had been to his liking, he'd have used it. He was very forward-thinking - one of the things I found most impressive was him talking, in the early '80s, about how computers would revolutionise photography!

So, the exhibition, entirely black-and-white, was excellent. Why would I buy a book of his colour photos? Well, none of the books jumped out at me as covering the material in the exhibition particularly well. And, having seen so much blac-and-white material, his colour side sounded interesting. Hence, I bought it.

It's a mixture of photographs and writing, both by him and about him. In his more commercial work, the colour is strong, while in other work it's relatively subtle - a colour layer on top of his normal work. One of the things he particularly disliked about colour was the lack of effective way of going from vibrant transparency to a printed version. I'm hoping that modern printing techniques have mostly addressed that, although the reproductions lack all the dodging and burning Ansel no doubt would have applied if he could.

As it is, the photos are perhaps a little lack-lustre compared to his most striking B&W work, but you can still see his composition, and the colour does help make the images a little friendlier. Overall, it's nicely accesible, and provides a different view onto his work.

Posted 2013-01-18.