The Same Ol’ Question

June 18th, 2012
by Ralph Nordstrom

Every time I do a show I get asked multiple times if my photographs are manipulated.  My answer is always, ‘Yes, of course.’  The hidden expectation is that photographs are supposed to be accurate depictions of the scene that is photographed.  This expectation is not new.  And any photographer that seeks to make art rather than documentation must face this question.

Take Ansel Adams for instance….

ansel adams winter sunrise thumb The Same Ol’ Question

The above iconic Ansel Adams photograph is titled Winter Sunrise.  It is of Mt Whitney and Lone Pine Peak above the Alabama Hills with Adams’ characteristic dramatic lighting.

There’s an interesting excerpt regarding this photograph from his book, “Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs.”

“The enterprising youth of the Lone Pine High School had climbed the rocky slopes of the Alabama Hills and whitewashed a huge white L P for the world to see.  It is a hideous and insulting scar on one of the great vista of our land, and shows in every photograph made of the area.  I ruthlessly removed what I could of the L P from the negative (in the left-hand hill), and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print.  I have been criticized by some for doing this, but I am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy – for me, at least – the extraordinary beauty and perfection of this scene.”

It seems the debate raged in Adams’ day and continues today.  I guess you know where I stand.  Oh, and for those ‘purists’ that revere Adams, if they only knew.

wlEmoticon winkingsmile The Same Ol’ Question

Go ahead.  Express yourself in your photographs.

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Posted in Journal, Photographer as Artist | Comments (5)

5 Responses to “The Same Ol’ Question”

  1. Paul d'Aoust Says:

    Very refreshing to hear this little story… I always thought, after reading Adams’ books on how to ‘make’ photos, as he called it, that he would’ve loved Photoshop, because he was all about manipulating exposures, negatives, prints, chemicals, dodging, burning, etc, to get the picture that conveyed the exact impression he wanted.

  2. Paul d'Aoust Says:

    Also, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘submit’ button for the comment form on your website.

  3. doinlight Says:

    Paul,
    Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you. Sounds like you’ve read Adams’ books in which he spells out his techniques. One other way to look at it is Adams was all about previsualization which in itself very clearly points out that he wasn’t trying to document what he saw with his eyes but communicate what he felt with his soul.

  4. Tom Schultz Says:

    I appreciate your attitude to photo manipulation…you just don’t add things that were not there. Enhancing contrast, color saturation and sharpness are all fair game to you (and me). Even burning and dodging! I feel better about what I have been teaching. Thanks

  5. doinlight Says:

    Tom, thanks for the comment. I’m glad you got some confirmation for your work from this. I think that it is important for each of us to accept the fact that we want to create strong images that communicate what we are seeing and feeling in the images we capture and not be constrained to creating documents. I want to share the excitement I feel and create images that will enrich people’s lives.

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