Posts Tagged ‘Columbia University’

The New Golden Decade by Steidl – Book Review

September 25th, 2017

Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-55

By William Heick, Ira H. Latour and C. Cameron Macauley, edited by Ken Ball and Victoria Whyte Ball

Book Review

The New Cover of The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-55.

Cutting Edge of World Art Then, Publishing Today

A completely new, redesigned, re-edited and revised version of the Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts 1945-55, published by renowned photography book publisher Steidl based in Gottingen, Germany, has been selling steadily in the United States for close to a year. The new Golden Decade has already sparked glowing reviews by many major newspapers and magazines, instigated book signings at some of America’s most prominent bookstore venues and catalyzed a handful of exhibitions at major museums, galleries and art centers.

This year, Steidl, the book, or the photographers have been featured in USA Today, the New Yorker and many other prominent publications. Mainstay European newspaper, The Guardian, hailed the Golden Decade as the book about “the school that turned photography into art.” Beyond the Curtain, touted as Southern California’s premier art and society magazine, extolled the Golden Decade photography exhibition at the Laguna Art Museum as “not for the eye to miss” and “a special glimpse into California’s progressive cultural history.” The Beyond the Curtain review revealed the influential ties between Golden Decade photography and the world art scene, as well as the East Coast art establishment. The article in Beyond the Curtain showed how the West Coast, specifically the California School of Fine Arts, renamed the San Francisco Art Institute, between its painters and photographers, at the time became the world’s cutting edge expression of modernism.

Only five of the 35 photographers with portfolios in the book are still living, while none of the original authors William Heick, Ira H. Latour and C. Cameron Macauley are still with us. As a result, the book editors, Ken Ball and Victoria Whyte Ball are all but worn out by an extended season of bookstore events that launched at the end of last October with a book signing at The Strand in New York City and continues throughout California and other major art markets. For more about the development of the new Golden Decade at Steidl and a list of all 35 photographers see the Landscape Photography Blogger article, “The Golden Decade Book to be Published by Gerhard Steidl.

The New Golden Decade Book Versus the Old Book

Steidl’s new design for the Golden Decade is less folksy and not as loaded with memorabilia, but more artful, chic, streamlined and clean, though the book still weighs in at 416 pages. The book is far from sleek, but the design on each page is sleek, spacious and crisp. The book overall is less busy and more pleasing to the eye than the earlier self-published version. A section in the beginning now tells how the book came to be, followed by the feature essay in which Ira H. Latour, in easy-reading prose tells the story of the founding of the photography department by Ansel Adams and California School of Fine Arts director Douglas MacAgy. For more on how the Golden Decade began see the blog post, “The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts.

From obtaining funding through the Columbia Foundation, to securing facilities, the radio announcement, the first classes, launching the full-time program, abstract expressionism and much more, Latour’s essay informs, but does not overwhelm. Ansel Adams modeled the school on a rigorous piano conservatory approach to hands-on practice and set up the curriculum based on his famous Zone System. Early on a few students complained that the advertising promised courses by Ansel Adams just as he had become scarce at the school while working on his Guggenheim project photographing the national parks. The complaining faded when Ansel Adams hired Minor White, who in turn brought in prominent photographers to teach including Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Lisette Model, Eliot Finkels, Frederick W. Quandt, Jr., Clyde Childress from the Art Center School, Robert McAllister, Homer Page, Rose Mandel and others. Beaumont and Nancy Newhall even gave a few lectures. The most anticipated student outings were to visit Edward Weston and Brett Weston at Wildcat Hill in Carmel, as well as photography field trips with Edward Weston out to Pt. Lobos State Reserve.

Minor White taught his, at the time somewhat confusing, but later much lauded Space Analysis. Benjamin Chinn, Philip Hyde, C. Cameron Macauley and others who wrote or talked about Space Analysis each had different understandings of it, but in June of 1952, the American Annual of Photography published an article by Minor White that defined Space Analysis as simply “The Use of Space in Defining Pictures.” C. Cameron Macauley’s essay in the Golden Decade also has provides readers with an understandable summary. Space Analysis brought the photographer’s awareness to vacant space, filled space and the relationships between objects and space, with more emphasis on the space than the objects. Students applied Space Analysis both before exposure while looking at the ground glass and after the production of a finished print.

Besides teaching portrait and landscape photography with large format cameras, White encouraged the study of motion by studying rush hour and doing street photography using “mini cameras,” that is, medium format and 35 mm. He also promoted the photographic interpretation of other arts including sculpture, plays, various other forms of performance and festivals. Students photographed the lively Fillmore District, the coast along Highway 1, industrial and architectural subjects with real world assignments by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Stanford University, the City of Mendocino, the Gold Country, ghost towns and many other locations and clients all over Northern California.

Essays By Star CSFA Students

The essays by William Heick, C. Cameron Macauley, Ira H. Latour and others illuminate all aspects of student endeavor, both the day and night classes, student social gatherings, the striking philosophical differences between Minor White and Edward Weston and between Minor White and Ansel Adams. The latter at times brought on heated classroom discussions. Latour’s essay in particular offers an insightful, incisive dissecting not only of technical, creative and academic aspects of the photography program, but of the philosophy and character of both instructors and key innovative students.

Separate essays, all rearranged for better flow in this new Steidl version of the Golden Decade, also cover student print exchanges, a student print-based fundraising event, the world-famous 1954 “Perceptions” show at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the founding of Aperture magazine with several students including Philip Hyde, Benjamin Chinn and William Heick, being featured in early issues. Another essay described the students hanging out and later mounting a show at Vesuvio’s Bistro in the bustle of San Francisco’s North Beach District, which soon after became the home neighborhood of the Beat Generation poets. “Vesuvio’s is usually crowded with painters, photographers, craftsmen and sighseers,” wrote C. Cameron Macauley.

An essay by Pat Harris, “A Woman’s Perspective” explained that though most of the men had just come out of Word War II and were going to art school backed by the G.I. Bill, the primarily non-veteran women enrolled in the classes had to scrape and pay for school on their own. People kept saying to Pat Harris that science was not for women at each school she attended previously, but Ansel accepted her into the photography program and with mentoring from Imogen Cunningham she thrived.

Similarities, Differences and Influences in Student Photographs

Students at the school came from diverse backgrounds and circumstances, but the similarities that ran through many of the photographs do not end at the often-evident influence of Adams, Weston and White, but begin with it and go beyond it. Emerging from World War II, the country, the world and San Francisco in particular, had tremendous creative energy and productivity, while at the same time civilization carried the weight of what it had seen and endured, moving past it with transcendence and new purpose. Aspects of all of this are evident in the photographs, as well as meanings beneath the surface in most of the images. Edward Weston said, “To photograph a rock, make it look like a rock, but be more than a rock.”

The student portfolios exhibit a quiet intensity with clean lines, a new take on the modernist aesthetic, with room around subjects, objects well-placed in space, whether through space analysis or by emulating the quiet balance conveyed by Edward Weston. Many of the students’ photographs exhibit a strong design element. All are carefully conceived. For more about the contemporary exhibitions of the photographs starting in 2010 see the blog post, “Over 500 People Attend Golden Decade Opening.

Ansel Adams spoke of photographs representing a spiritual experience. The Golden Decade nature photographs exemplify either subtle or more obvious post-war transcendence. The landscape photographs contain some kind of spiritual quality, either through the use of light, or the arrangement of the subjects. Symbolism, ironic juxtaposition and the careful handling of negative and positive space around objects is as important as the objects and people themselves. The influence of Minor White also shows in the patterns and psychological emphasis, sometimes on humor, sometimes on tragedy, but always giving added meaning to the images. Metaphysics often shows or is alluded to in the street and people photographs as well. Pirkle Jones, William Heick, Gerald Ratto, David Johnson and many of the others expressed their greatest artistry in their photographs of people.

The first photograph in the student portfolios, “Nun and Child” by Ruth-Marion Baruch, like many others in the book, was clearly best expressed in black and white rather than in color. The nun’s habit with it’s black and stark white oversized collar contrasted with various grays and off-whites of the surrounding children all framed in a dark doorway. Baruch’s “Benicia” also juxtaposed innocence, optimism and the liveliness of youth in the foreground with the disappointment, unfairness and misfortune of life in the background. The images of Philip Hyde, Stan Zrnich and the other landscape photographers tended to speak of timelessness and at the same time remind us that we are here by either grace or accident and that this moment, this vivid now is fleeting. ‘Gather ye photographs while ye may.’ The Golden Decade shines on forever and glows golden for only one bright decade. It continues on and ended just yesterday: a book worth learning from and keeping safe for studying over and over; a time in history worth struggling to grasp and hold onto whether you are a historian, collector, photographer or artist in another medium.

San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 16

June 19th, 2014

Reciprocity Failure

Lecture By Ansel Adams

Introduction And Philip Hyde Lecture Notes

(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 15.”)

Sunken Car, Sausalito, Marin County, Alcatraz In Distance, San Francisco Bay, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde. Made during photography school.

Sunken Car, Sausalito, Marin County, Alcatraz In Distance, San Francisco Bay, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde. Made during photography school.

No other known set exists of complete student lecture notes from the first ten years of the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. During the “Golden Decade,” directly after World War II, while Minor White was lead instructor, beginning in the Summer Session 1947, Philip Hyde took detailed class notes. These notes are what make up the core of a good number of entries in this series of blog articles on the history of the San Francisco Art Institute’s photography department.

Background And Founding Of The World’s First Professional Creative Photography Training

Minor White and Philip Hyde both attended their first Ansel Adams lecture on the same day at the start of the California School of Fine Arts Summer Session 1946. Ansel Adams brought in Minor White with the idea he would take Ansel Adams’ place as lead instructor. Minor White came directly from Columbia University on Beaumont and Nancy Newhall’s recommendation. In the 1946 Summer Session Minor White quickly proved himself as a coach of the young students and as a guest lecturer. Within a few weeks Ansel Adams felt confident enough in Minor White’s teaching abilities to leave him in charge of the class and set out on the road to photograph the national parks for his recently awarded Guggenheim Fellowship.

That Fall, Minor White also led the first class of full-time students in the world’s first academic full-time creative photography program. By Fall of 1947, a new crop of first year students began learning from Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts, renamed the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961. The San Francisco Art Institute still has one of the world’s most innovative photography departments, but the first ten years of the program, now called the Golden Decade, are the stuff of legend with guest lectures arranged by Minor White that included such photographic luminaries as Imogen Cunningham, Lissette Model, Dorothea Lange, and many others; as well as the highlight of each semester: a field trip to Wildcat Hill in Carmel to visit Edward Weston, complete with a field walk with him out on Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Ansel Adams first taught the photography Summer Session in 1945. Minor White joined him teaching in 1946. Philip Hyde started as a student at the same time, but due to an office paperwork error, did not make the list to attend the first full-time class in Fall 1946, but began photography school in the second full-time class in Fall 1947. The Summer Session 1947 featured lectures by both Adams and White. Philip Hyde’s lecture notes begin in the Summer Session 1947. Philip Hyde proved to be one of the most eager students, despite his full personal life.

On June 29, 1947, Philip Hyde married Ardis King in Berkeley. Ardis King’s family was from Sacramento, but her parents owned a house in Berkeley, where she and her brother Clint King lived while attending the University of California Berkeley. Philip and Ardis got to know each other while attending classes at UC Berkeley, where Ardis earned her teaching credential. They took a number of classes together, including a course in Calligraphy and Japanese Painting by the famous Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata. More on these classes and their influence on the Hydes in future blog posts.

Reciprocity Failure Defined

Following Minor White’s lecture on The Technical Aspects of Visualization on August 19, 1947, Ansel Adams came before the class and held forth on Reciprocity Failure for the next two days. Most of the lecture contents were too technical to reproduce here, with many graphs depicting film densities and sensitometry readings.

Reciprocity failure oversimplified, results in the failure of film to show accurate and unflawed detail in shadows. While the subject may seem dry in some ways, it is an important concept in straight photography where the values of clarity, sharpness and clean rendering without artifacts and film noise are considered of utmost importance. Many photographers today in the digital age don’t care about the technical aspects of photography because they don’t need to in order to produce high fidelity photography. Camera technology today, if used according to the manual and a few simple rules and guidelines, does much of the work automatically, when the correct settings are chosen. However, with large format film cameras, everything had to be done manually. Ansel Adams was a stickler for all technical aspects of photography and developing a solid base of knowledge and aptitude in his students. The results speak for themselves, evident in his negatives and black and white prints, as well as the negatives and fine art prints of his students. It is precisely because of their perfection that Ansel Adams prints are some of the most sought after by collectors and considered some of the most valuable in the history of the medium.

The Film Photography Project blog gives an excellent explanation of reciprocity failure:

Whether you’re using a lower speed film in daylight, trying to maximize your depth of field in a landscape, or just setting up the camera for an exposure at night, sooner or later you’re going to start pushing the limits of your film’s light gathering ability. As light becomes more scarce, the silver halide grains residing in your film will be less uniformly struck by photons, causing a steep drop in density after a few seconds of needed exposure. This exponentially diminishing response to low light levels is more popularly known as a film’s reciprocity failure.

The Film Photography Project goes on to give examples of how different films exhibit reciprocity failure. For example, with black and white film, exposures of one or two seconds or longer will result in reduced density, that is, thin or non-existent shadow detail. With color negative film, exposures over 20 seconds cause color-shifting as different color dye layers in the film absorb light at different rates during prolonged exposure. With color slide film, exposures over five seconds result in color shifts similar to color negative film, while high color saturation slide films such as Fuji Velvia color shift to an even greater degree than lower color density films.

Ansel Adams’ two-day lecture on reciprocity failure gave his students the tools to avoid reciprocity failure. Some of the technical terms and information implies previous knowledge from earlier lectures of various photographic subjects such as the Zone System. Stay tuned for a simple explanation of the Zone System in future posts in this series. These notes are presented primarily for the historical record.

Philip Hyde’s Lecture Notes, August 19, 1947

Reciprocity failure—inertia of film in low intensity light—film doesn’t respond to slight illumination.

Visualization and light metering—Use a long tube for the light meter to explore light readings of distant objects.

A Wratten 90 filter (tan color) for viewing—neutralizes color

Example: Greens on Kodak Verichrome Pan film drop nearly a full zone in value due to lack of green sensitivity.

All measurements for density should be above film base plus fog.

[Film base plus fog refers to the inherent density of any film before exposure. It consists of the film base plus any fog that has accumulated on the film due to subtle light exposure in handling]

For the sake of measurement and calculations, film base plus fog should not be less than 0.1 in density.

Pre-Exposure Exercise

Expose a white card for Zone II or Zone I depending on amount of exposure added. Then expose the scene normally. The units added will equal the numeric relation between zones. That is:

Zone I = 1 unit

Zone II = 2 units

Zone III = 4 units

Zone IV = 8 units

Zone V = 16 units

Zone VI = 32 units

…and so on up to Zone X

More on reciprocity failure and the Zone System in upcoming posts…

(Continued in the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 17.”)

My impressions from this lecture and other sources, as well as my own experiences, leads me to believe that it was complicated to make good photographs with large format film cameras. When photographers take for granted how easy photography is now, I often think of my father, Philip Hyde’s notes and his early training with Ansel Adams. What are your thoughts?