Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Life In B&W
Robert Buelteman is starting over, rediscovering the landscape he left long ago
Buelteman left behind much when he ceased to be a landscape photographer. This was a man who felt he understood Ansel Adams’ Zone System so well that he thought it flawed. So he developed a better method, a more scientific approach to total mastery of black-and-white photography.
“I started off as an acolyte in the Western landscape tradition,” Buelteman explains. “Back when I started doing this, I was doing it the way I had been trained and the way everybody knew it should be done, which is to say using Ansel’s Zone System of very carefully exposed and placed values. In the years that I worked on this, I noticed that there were a number of real issues around the Zone System, issue number one being that it purports to be a scientifically based technique, but in fact, in my experience, there’s no real science in it. There’s a lot of testing and back-and-forth, but there’s no actual measurement and defined replication of results.
“It was around 1990 that I met Phil Davis of Beyond the Zone System fame,” Buelteman continues. “He said, ‘I’m not much of a photographer, but I really know film and paper.’ And I threw the Zone System overboard and I spent nine months or a year out of the field, in the darkroom with densitometers and all the papers I use and all the film chemistry, and I generated my entire data set that, to this day, I rely on in making my exposure, calculating my development and making my prints. I now have only one grade of paper in my darkroom because every single negative I shoot is printed on that one paper, which has allowed a technical consistency, but more important than that, a creative consistency, where I can see the values in the field before putting the camera on the tripod.
After years in the field and even more time refining his output in the darkroom, Buelteman decided to give it all up. Just like that, one day in 1999, he quit.
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