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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Beyond Ansel Adams

Adhere to the Ansel Adams tradition of linking the viewer to the landscape while exploring new visual styles and artistic expression

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Winter Woods Abstract. Photo by Joseph Rossbach.
And whereas Adams focused on the sharpness and clarity captured by a photograph as being something singular to photography—its ability to faithfully capture reality in a way not offered by other art forms—I hold a slightly different view. Adams was right—photography's connection with reality is unique among art forms. Painting, sculpting, drawing: They all start with nothing—a blank canvas or sheet of paper, or an uncut block of stone—and through the creative thought and actions of the artist, something is produced from nothing. Not so with photography, which is much more reliant on the real world around us. A photograph is created when actual light reacts with film or a digital sensor; the photographer triggers a shutter, snaring a selective and fleeting slice of the surrounding world.

The photographer's creative tools, therefore, are rooted in this capture process. Filters, lenses, aperture, shutter speed, choice of perspective and patiently waiting for pleasing convergences of light, color, composition and mood—these are how a photographer stamps a creative imprint on his or her work. This connection with reality isn't merely a technical detail. It is, above all, what gives photography its power to move people. This is the wonder that's exclusive to photography: the magic of plucking a fleeting moment—a real moment—from the living world and freezing it for posterity.

For me, a photograph's inherent tether to the moment is much more compelling and unique than its clarity or sharpness. The pinnacle of the art form is to wait patiently for random forces to temporarily assemble into something meaningful and beautiful before spinning along on their merry way—and in the process reveal something significant about the subject and perhaps the artist, as well. Famous French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue said it best: "Photography to me is catching a moment which is passing, and which is true." This is something that photography, of all art forms, is perfectly and uniquely suited to do.

And, lucky for us, today's DSLR is the "ultimate moment" capture device. Nothing—simply nothing—matches the DSLR's entire package of speed, flexibility and image quality. Instant feedback on your LCD means you can check right away to see if you caught the perfect moment, or whether you need to charge once more into the breach and try again. With the equipment of Adams' day, technical perfection and spontaneity didn't usually go hand in hand. Now, you can have both, if you desire—or, you can let perfection take a backseat and explore a somewhat messier, albeit less restrictive, form of artistic expression.

I'm privileged to work with a group of talented photographers on my Dreamscapes blog. Although we're no Group f/64, and we certainly don't aspire to any unified artistic style, we're all seeking to expand the boundaries of the Ansel Adams photographic paradigm, some gently, others with a bit more vigor. Embracing the use of atmosphere, intentional camera blur, long exposures, mixed lighting, abstract compositions and other unconventional approaches, we seek to explore mood, moment, emotion and the fleeting, yet meaningful random convergences of our constantly changing natural world. And there are many other photographers out there embracing a whole host of alternative techniques and artistic philosophies, producing some remarkable art in the process. I'm excited to see what the future holds for us all.


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