Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ansel Adams and Walker Evans

I just finished a fascinating biography of Walker Evans by Belinda Rathbone first published in 1995. It was the second biography I had read about him the other one being written by James R. Mellow and published in 1999. The James R. Mellow work was written with much more detail, perhaps a little too much detail but unfortunately the author died before he could finish it. He covered Evans life from his birth in 1903 to 1956. Evans went on to live another 19 years of a very interesting life. He was also lucky enough to live long enough to enjoy his recognition as one of Americas most original photographers.
Ansel Adams is certainly Americas most well known photographer. He spent a lifetime perfecting his technique and teaching it to others in workshops and in his books. His basic photography series 1-5 which has been in publication since the 40's explains in great detail his approach to pre-visualizing the landscape to determine exposure, proper film development and finished print. It's a wonderful guide to learning the techniques of fine art analog photography. He believed in the well crafted print and subject matter worthy of the time and effort to make that print.
Evans also worked very hard to produce the beautiful finished print and like Adams he worked with an 8x10 view camera but what they chose to preserve could not have been further apart. Adams loved the dramatic and pristine natural landscape untouched by civilization. Evans was fascinated by the cluttered human landscape the essence of civilization.
Adams and Evans were born the same year but thought little of each others work. Evans on Adams; "...disappointing. His work is careful, studied, weak Strand, self concious, mostly utterly pointless...Wood seasoned, rocks landscapes, filtered skies. All wrong." Adams on Evans; "I think the book is atrocious. Just why the Museum (MOMA) would undertake to present that book (American Photographs) is a mystery to me. Walker Evans book gave me a hernia. I am so goddam mad over what people from the left tier think America is."
It's an oversimplification but I believe Adams was more photographer then artist and Evans more artist then photographer. Adams believed in the medium of photography itself and his photo-secessionist movement, the F-64 group, was about conquering the medium and fully understanding the physics, the chemistry, the architecture of camera, light, film and print.
Evans was more about using the medium to illustrate a point of view.



Anonymous Kristin said...

Imagine if they could have brought themselves to collaborate.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Thomas D. Rutter said...

They both had pretty big egos and very different points of view. Adams though could have used some of Evans sense of humor and Evans could have used some of Adams work ethic. I included these two portraits by them to show how each could work with similar subjects but produce disimilar results. Thanks for commenting good to know someones reading my blog. You need to start photographing yourself. I miss your whimsical images on your blog, Pis for Picture. You have a similar point of view to Evans and you both seem fascinated by advertising art.

6:45 PM  

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