Posts Tagged ‘Space Analysis’

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 14

February 16th, 2012

Space Analysis Lecture By Minor White

Philip Hyde’s 1947 Class Notes

California School Of Fine Arts, Now The San Francisco Art Institute

Photography Program Founded By Ansel Adams, Minor White Lead Instructor

(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 13.”)

(View the photograph large: “Ship ‘China Victory,’ Fishing Boats, San Francisco Waterfront.”)

Ship “China Victory” And Fishing Boats, San Francisco Waterfront, San Francisco Bay, California, copyright 1948 by Philip Hyde. The fishing boat hulls on the left are an example of planes parallel to the focal plane.

Landscape Photography Blogger Note:

Perhaps one of the most renowned, yet mysterious concepts that Minor White taught was Space Analysis. Few of Minor White’s students gave any indication that they understood the idea completely. Interviews with Philip Hyde, William Heick, Ben Chinn, Stan Zrnich, David Johnson and others bear this out. Little has been written or described anywhere regarding the definition of Minor White’s Space Analysis. Now, here, published for the first time ever are Philip Hyde’s class notes from August 1947 covering Minor White’s lecture on Space Analysis.

Space Analysis Lecture By Minor White

August 26, 1947

Philip Hyde’s Class Notes

Introduction

  • Composition in the Graphic Arts consists of organization and construction; as contrasted with photography. Composition in photography consists of analysis and organization of existing elements.
  • In photography, the frame of the viewfinder or ground glass isolates or selects elements desired.
  • Closeness –> Restraint;  Distance –> Freedom
  • Implication of horizontal plane (as viewed from above) from Vertical Plane is part of Space Analysis. Arises from conventions, knowledge and due to the third dimensional effect inherent in a photograph.

The subject can dictate the organization of the rest of the photograph and the rest of the photograph should conform to the subject.

Space-Depth Concept

  1. Planes (or a plane) which are parallel to the focal plane
    1. Perhaps the simplest type of subject is one single plane photographed. For example: a wall.
    2. Parallel planes in depth—a series of objects without an intervening horizontal plane. For example: a series of stage sets. Sometimes called banding.
    3. Horizontal plane with lines of demarcation. For example: waves on the ocean photographed from a high cliff.
    4. Vertical lines open the space up a little more. For example: a series of planes in depth with vertical edges.
  2. Planes at an angle to the focal plane.
    1. Diagonal or Receding Planes. For example: a road going away from the camera.

Negative Space

The space between objects or around objects has existence and weight. This volume or space is exceptionally important in photography, as is the control of this space, as effected by the tone of respective objects, lighting of objects and placement of the horizontal plane—in tonal values. For example: Screens are placed near each other; the space between may be expanded or contracted by the control above.

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

Photography’s Golden Era 7

September 4th, 2010

Classmates Philip Hyde And Benjamen Chinn Talk About Ansel Adam’s Photography Department At The California School of Fine Arts

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 6.”)

San Francisco Emerges As Post-War Art And Industrial Center Of The West

Locomotive Drive Gear Parts, Tiberon Northwest Pacific Railroad Yards, Marin County, California, 1948 by Philip Hyde. This photograph among others in the Black and White I and Photography School Portfolios will appear in the new book, "The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-1955" to be released Tonight, September 4, 2010 at the opening reception at Smith Andersen North Gallery. Also this evening will be a preview screening of the short documentary film, "Looking For My Father Through Ansel Adam's Lens."

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

San Francisco flourished coming out of World War II and grew into the financial capitol of the Western United States. In 1945 Bank of America became the largest bank in the world. Bechtel built Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in the early 1960s, and by the 1970s developed into the largest privately held corporation in the world.

Just up the hill from Kaiser, Bank of America, Bechtel, Utah Mining and Construction and others in San Francisco’s financial district, stood the Mill Towers headquarters of what developers called the “enemies of progress,” the Sierra Club. Before the 1950s the Club had only a few thousand members, but in just two decades its numbers soared into the hundreds of thousands.

While industrialists and environmentalists squared off, San Francisco also became the West Coast’s creative center. After World War II, discharged veterans were armed with a new domestic weapon, the G. I. Bill, that promised to pay for their education in the trade school or college of their choice. The Jazz age brought a vibrant night life and music scene to the streets and night clubs of San Francisco. Artists from war-torn Europe and elsewhere settled in the Bay Area. The many military bases funneled young men into industrial development and provided labor for an expanding city.

Writers and artists took over cheap rentals in Marin County from what had been shipyard housing. Abandoned barges in Sausalito were converted into homes with roofs and plumbing. The mingling of painters, sculptors, print makers, photographers, potters, graphic artists, metalworkers and other artists transformed Northern California and the world. It was a great time to be a photographer in San Francisco.

The Legacy And Optimism Of California School Of Fine Arts Photography

At the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute, painters and sculptors, many who later became famous, taught or attended classes. At the time the California School of Fine Arts was among a handful of institutions in the nation that offered an extensive full-time program in photography. Ansel Adams had founded the first academic department in the country to teach photography as a profession at the California School of Fine Arts in 1945. The importance of the school and its influence on all of photography has lasted well into the 21st Century. Ansel Adams and his lead instructor Minor White from Princeton, hired on recommendation from Beaumont Newhall, helped transformed the dialog around photographic practice to a serious study. Students were trained to be not only technically proficient but thoughtful and intentional about how they approached the world with a camera. To learn more about Minor White’s classroom and his letters to Beaumont and Nancy Newhall and his student Philip Hyde about one of his questions, see the blog post, “Minor White Letters 1.”

Their education delayed by the War, many of the photography students were at least three years older than the typical college freshmen. “Most of us were in the service where our lives were on hold,” said San Francisco born student Philip Hyde. “The War taught us a lot that grew us up fast.” Though Philip Hyde’s 15-20 classmates got along well, he said they never talked about the War. “We were enthusiastic about our new lives and wanted to leave the past behind.” They were serious, yet “happy to be free” and enthusiastic to pursue such an outstanding opportunity in San Francisco, the post-war hotbed for the incubation of young artists. The photography students were all highly dedicated. One student, Al Richter, always carried his camera, even at the parties. Al Richter took pictures of each class member and gave them prints.

“The times were amazing because optimism permeated the country,” Philip Hyde said. “Those were some of the happiest days of my life. I was newly married and pursuing something that I thought was important to do. There was a lot of lightheartedness in class. A few of the guys were wags, you know, they often cracked jokes.”

Who Made The Jokes In Class

“That was John Rogers cracking the jokes,” said another classmate Benjamen Chinn. “I know how to Joke but I don’t talk as much as John Rogers. John was the one that always teased Minor White. Al Richter was quiet but had a dry sense of humor.” With the humor, positive outlook and time spent together, many of the class members became life-long friends. Al Richter and Benjamen Chinn called Philip Hyde after he moved to the mountains for the rest of their lives. They drove the five hours from San Francisco to Philip Hyde’s home in the wilderness in 1958, 1959 and 1961.

“Al took his vacation and my vacation didn’t matter, I could take it any time,” Ben Chinn said. “Two or three years in a row he wanted to go up and visit Philip. He did the driving and I just rode along. Al might have had a plan, but I never knew it. He never told me where we were going. It was for the best.” They traveled equipped with 4X5 Baby Deardorffs on wooden tripods. They had a rule that if either one of them saw a picture they would stop and photograph for a while before going on. “Paul Caponigro went with us one of those trips,” Ben said. Paul Caponigro was a photographer friend of Ben’s that he introduced to Ansel Adams, and who subsequently became renowned in his own right.

Ansel Adam’s Approach To Teaching

As founder of the school and teacher of the classes from time to time, Ansel Adams had to find the best way to harness the student’s enthusiasm. He said in his autobiography, “The teacher must guide the student carefully asking if his image says what he wanted it to say and what he tried to visualize as the completed print before the exposure was made. It must be the student’s image, not one imposed upon him.”

“He talked to us in class in such a way, especially when we were out in the field,” Philip Hyde said. Though Ansel did not get into the field with us as much as Minor White or Edward Weston. People have said Ansel’s books are essentially the material he taught in class. Both Ansel and Minor devoted a lot of time talking to us about photography. For Ansel ‘Seeing’ was very important.”

Seeing, Looking, Minor White’s Space Analysis And Other Discoveries

“To me seeing is a process that involves much more than just looking at something.” Philip Hyde said. “It involves analyzing what you are looking at and thinking about what you are going to do, what you are doing it for. When you look at something casually you are not really seeing it. You have to look pretty hard and you have to let your eyes go over it and size it up.”

Benjamen Chinn had been a photographer since age 10. He did aerial reconnaissance photography during the War. Ben started in September 1947 just like Philip Hyde, but left in the middle of 1949 to go to art school in Paris. Benjamen Chinn attended the famous Art School at Sorbonne, University of Paris. He also hitch-hiked all over Europe and in time traveled the world. For many years he worked for the U. S. Department of Defense establishing and overseeing its color photo lab in San Francisco for many years.

Neither Philip Hyde nor Benjamen Chinn seemed to have a firm grasp of Minor White’s famous Space Analysis. Ben said it was one thing he never knew. “On the assignment I did what I thought he wanted. I did a far and near subject. You either had to have the far and near all in focus or focus on the background then focus on the foreground. This identified the space. That is what I thought it was. I am not sure.”

“I don’t have a specific definition of it,” Philip Hyde said. “It is roughly as I say, looking at what is there and deciding what you will include. In doing that you have to look over the space you are pointing at with the camera. The camera and lens are going to select something to capture. We learned to operate the camera to select what we wanted. We learned to take in the whole scene and see what is really there. With some subjects in some photographs my process of seeing was almost instantaneous. The average passer-by doesn’t see everything, not because their eye missed it, but because they didn’t notice it, their brain edited it out.”

This emphasis on careful seeing was a key component of what Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston taught at the California School of Fine Arts. Philip Hyde explained that some of it was verbalized and some of it he received “largely by osmosis.” He said he learned many of his life-long tools of perception through immersion. “I learned by looking at photographs, talking about them and being totally involved with being a photographer,” Philip Hyde said. “Certain details of a scene capture my attention. With some photographs I experienced a recognition that there was something I ought to photograph. Sometimes seeing can be very quick. After the decision to make a photograph, then you can go back over it and analyze and make sure everything is right about your adjustments: how you framed it and so on. After you see the photograph the process continues with deciding exposure and lens settings. When I’m out looking for photographs it is like I am setting up my own interior camera.”

Pre-Visualization, Photography Exhibitions And Student Assignments

Ansel Adams taught students to make a rectangular black cardboard frame cut out to compose pictures at first. The student could put that special film over the opening and even end up with a black and white image. Philip Hyde said this was only the initial phase in working with the camera. “I wanted to use my eyes rather than an artificial piece of cardboard.”

Philip Hyde said Ansel Adams and Minor White generally had no trouble motivating the students. “All they had to do was say, ‘we are going to do this’ and everybody would be ready to do it. If there was a show at the school or at the San Francisco Museum of Art, Minor would send us on assignment to report on the show.” Sometimes these reports were written and sometimes they were given in verbal form, one student at a time to the rest of the class. “With the verbal reports, we were to describe the show and say something about what impressed us and what we looked for and what we thought the show meant. Sometimes we would describe a picture we particularly liked and explain what about it interested us. There was a lot of that kind of analysis. That was one of the ways we learned.”

For information on a unique exhibition opening tonight of the CSFA photographers from this era go to the blog post, “The Golden Decade: California School of Fine Arts Photography.” For more on the landscape photography of Edward Weston see the blog post, “Edward Weston’s Landscape Philosophy Part 1.”

Continued in the next blog post in the series, “Photography’s Golden Era 8.”

References:

Taped Interviews with Philip Hyde

Taped Interviews with Benjamen Chinn

Community of Creatives Website

Smith Andersen North Gallery Website

The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts by Stephanie Comer, Deborah Klochko and Jeff Gunderson

Photography’s Golden Era 6

July 22nd, 2010

The Early Days Of Ansel Adam’s Photography Department At The California School Of Fine Arts

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 5.”)

The Minarets From Tarn Above Lake Ediza, Minarets Wilderness (now the Ansel Adams Wilderness), Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, California, 1950 by Philip Hyde. This photograph Ansel Adams said he liked better than his own of the Minarets. Philip Hyde during and after photography school at the California School of Fine Art was invited by his teachers and mentors, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Dorothea Lange to exhibit his photographs with theirs in major exhibitions. He exibited on several occasions with Edward Weston in a two-man show, once with Minor White in a two-man show, and in group shows with members of Group f.64. This photograph of the Minarets was chosen for a number of the exhibitions and now resides in national collections such as the Eastman Kodak House and others.

The Dispersion of Group f.64 Members

From Group f.64’s beginnings in the San Francisco Bay Area, members dispersed in various directions, setting out to show the world that this “new” form of photography would not only take, it would become the prevailing form. Today in the Twenty-first century people all over the world study the work of the members of Group f.64 and similar greats of the Modern Era, which lasted roughly from 1930 through the 1950s in the United States.

Many members of Group f.64 left the Bay Area in pursuit of a change in public perception of what made a photograph art. Willard Van Dyke moved to New York and became an avant garde filmmaker believing “film could promote change faster than still photography.” Ansel Adams also spent time in New York and mounted exhibitions of his work there. Edward Weston went to Santa Barbara to be with his son. Many accounts agree that Group f.64 was mainly social and short-lived. “Yet in interviews with these now famous photographers,” Therese Thau Heyman in Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography pointed out,  “In their notes and letters, and in newspaper reviews beginning with the (De Young Museum) exhibition, there are indications that these assumptions are hasty. Hurried notes, a few initials in exhibition lists, and recently discovered letters refer not to one but to a series of shows. Los Angeles, Portland, Carmel, Seattle, and still other sites are mentioned as venues at which the photographs were seen…”

Photography Obtains Status With Other Arts: A Photography Department At The Museum Of Modern Art

In 1940 David McAlpin, a Rockefeller heir and trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, abbreviated MoMA, financed the founding of a department of photography at the museum. A Harvard-trained art historian, MoMA librarian and curator of MoMA’s first photographic exhibition in 1937, Beaumont Newhall was the department’s curator. McAlpin’s gift was contingent on Ansel Adams consenting to be vice-chairman and agreeing to come to New York for six months to advise the launch. Over 500 New Yorkers turned out for the first opening. This was regarded as a large crowd for such an event and Time Magazine asserted that such a department gave photography equal status to painting and sculpture. However, most other press failed to recognize its significance.

Back in 1932, the renowned architect Ted Spencer had first caught the straight photography vision when he attended a Group f64 exhibition at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco and met Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and other Group f64 members. Ted Spencer was president of the San Francisco Art Association, which held the controlling interest in the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. By 1945, the California School of Fine Arts had a prestigious reputation as an art school with painting faculty including Elmer Bischoff, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. Ted Spencer suggested to Ansel Adams that they work together to develop a photography department at the California School of Fine Arts. Ted Spencer set aside the greater part of the main basement and one of the large studios for the new department. With architectural advice from Ted Spencer, Ansel Adams designed three darkrooms and a large demonstration area. The lowest estimate for the construction came in at $9,500. Following a search elsewhere, Adams finally received $10,000 from the Columbia Foundation and raised another $2,500 for equipment. After many delays and complications, Ansel Adams was ready to teach his first classes. He had already developed the cornerstone of his system for teaching photography that he called, “The Zone System.”

Ansel Adams Refines The Zone System

With the idea of furthering photography as an art form, Ansel Adams first began to teach workshops and classes at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. Other photographers have been credited with its invention, but Ansel Adams named it “The Zone System.” Ansel Adams developed “The Zone System” at the Art Center School in Los Angeles in 1941 and later refined it in early classes at the California School of Fine Arts from 1945 through 1947. The ‘Zone System’ enabled even inexperienced photographers to make quality photographs. Simplified, the ‘Zone System’ is a method for measuring light and dark tones in the photograph’s subject and corresponding values in the final print. Assigning Roman numerals from one at near-white to ten at near-black becomes what Ansel Adams called, “A framework for understanding exposure and development, and visualizing their effect in advance.”

Philip Hyde Writes Ansel Adams For Advice

In 1945, Sargeant Philip Hyde, while awaiting “separation” from the Army Air Corp was stationed at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama. Having heard of Ansel Adams before World War II, he wrote to the master landscape photographer in San Francisco and asked for advice on choosing good photography schools. Ansel Adams replied to Philip Hyde with a four-page letter discussing the pros and cons of various types of training. Near the end he mentioned that he just then happened to be working to obtain funding for the first college-level photography department ever at the California School of Fine Arts. Besides his extensive good advice to the young Sargeant, Ansel Adams wrote Philip Hyde, “This is confidential but…. We are hoping to establish the most advanced and effective photographic school in the country…. Do not be taken with the idea that technique is the only requirement, or that photography can be mastered in a year. It is just as tough as music, architecture, or painting–if it is going to be good.”

Philip Hyde was honorably discharged in December 1945 and made it home to San Francisco by Christmas. Philip Hyde briefly met his future wife and life-long traveling companion, Ardis King at a New Year’s Eve Party in San Francisco. They did not see each other again until the Fall of 1946, when Philip Hyde took several classes at the University of California Berkeley through a twist of fate. Ansel Adams taught a one-month course at the California School of Fine Arts in January 1946 and a Summer Session from June 24 through August 2. The first regular semester day class was to start in September 1946.

Philip Hyde Looses His Place In Class But Gains His Life Long Companion

Philip Hyde attended the Summer Session at the California School of Fine Arts instructed by Ansel Adams. Philip Hyde was waiting eagerly for the full-time Fall photography class. However, a surprise was in store. “Nearly 500 students applied to the photography program,” wrote Jeff Gunderson in The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts. “The capacity of the laboratory facilities limited the number of students to 36.” Philip Hyde had written and applied early but due to some mix-up in his paperwork or confusion over the date of his application, Ansel Adams had to write to let him know that he “headed the waiting list” for the next regular semester day class to start the following Fall 1947. Philip Hyde would have to wait a year to start photography school. He was upset at the time but Minor White suggested it was an opportunity to get some broader education using his G.I. Bill.

Philip Hyde applied to U. C. Berkeley and took a design class, a painting class with the famous Japanese painter Chiura Obata and several other classes over two semesters. He also ran across Ardis King again, who was studying for her teaching credential. They eventually were married in June 1947 (More in a future blog post and in the book.) “If it weren’t for the mix-up at CSFA,” Dad said. “I never would have become acquainted with my future wife. Thus the year he waited to go to photography school became one of the happiest years of his life. However, when he joined the second regular class in September 1947, something else had changed.

Ansel Adams Leaves Minor White In Charge Of The New Photography Department

In 1946 Ansel Adams received his first Guggenheim Fellowships to photograph national parks. During the Summer Session he trained photographer Minor White, imported from Princeton, to take his place as lead instructor. This freed Ansel Adams to hit the road. Ansel Adams taught the first three weeks of the course in the Fall of 1947 and then left for Death Valley and on to the Southwest to make landscape photographs. Minor White was left with a somewhat disgruntled crew of students who had expected to learn directly from Ansel Adams. However, the students soon realized that Minor White was a superb teacher and took their studies far beyond mere technique. Philip Hyde knew Minor White had much to offer as a teacher because he had seen Minor White and Ansel Adams work together in the 1946 Summer Session. For more about Minor White’s teaching and Philip Hyde’s participation in class read the blog post, “Minor White Letters 1.”

Minor White wrote of Ansel Adams in Memorable Fancies, “This morning in his class at the California School of Fine Arts the whole muddled business of exposure and development fell into place. This afternoon I started teaching his Zone System.” Ansel Adams wrote of Minor White in his Biography, “After seeing his photographs and observing his teaching of the students over the space of a few weeks, I quickly recognized that Minor White was a remarkable photographer and a potentially great teacher.”

Despite mutual respect the two men often had opposite views. Ansel Adams said that the craft of photography could be taught but that the art of seeing was not expressible or teachable. Nor did he believe photographs should be psychologically analyzed. In contrast, Minor White had learned Freudian analysis from the eminent art historian Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University. Minor White taught what he called Space Analysis. Benjamen Chinn, Philip Hyde, Bill Heick, David Johnson and what ended up being about 11 other photography students started the second full-time day student class in Fall 1947. Benjamen Chinn said that the students teased Minor White, accusing him of picking subjects out of the morning newspaper and analitically relating them to photographs. Though their approaches differed, Ansel Adams and Minor White developed a mutual respect and became good friends as can be readily seen in their letters to each other. Both instructors and students benefited from the lively interaction of the conflicting perspectives of the two master photographers. For more information on the photographers of the Golden Era see the blog post, “The Golden Decade: California School Of Fine Arts Photography.” This series continues with the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 7.”

Related Posts On Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston

Ansel Adams Photo Plates From Garage Sale Worth $200 Million

Summertime: Yosemite National Park

Hype (Over Ansel Adams Negatives)

Tax Consequences of the Mother of All Yard Sale Bargains ($200 Million for $45)