Posts Tagged ‘Zone System’

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.

Master of Platinum: Interview of Dick Arentz for Outdoor Photographer Magazine

August 9th, 2016

Master of Platinum and Palladium: An Outdoor Photographer Magazine Interview with Fine-Art Photographer, Innovator and Printer Dick Arentz

Cover of August Issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine.

Cover of August Issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine.

The August 2016 Outdoor Photographer Special Issue of the magazine print version features David Leland Hyde’s interview of Dick Arentz, an acclaimed large format photographer, workshop co-leader with Philip Hyde and expert platinum and palladium printer. Now the article, Master of Platinum, is available online.

The Arizona Arts and Humanities Commission honored Arentz as one of the most significant artists in the state. He helped Phil Davis develop the companion volume to Ansel Adams’ Zone System called Beyond the Zone System. He also has been researching 19th century techniques, testing, leading workshops and defining Platinum and Palladium printing for 43 years. His book, Platinum and Palladium Printing, is known in online forums and industry magazines as the quintessential book on the subject.

For those who are not familiar with this complex and difficult photographic black and white printmaking process, Arentz gave me a simplified summary himself:

In Platinum printing, as in most non-silver processes, an intense ultraviolet light must be passed though the negative to expose the paper coating. Because this is a higher intensity of light than is possible to project from an enlarger, the process requires contact. Before the ground breaking digital work of Dan Burkholder, there were basically two choices for the making of a negative: in-camera, or photo-mechanical enlargement by projecting the image on multiple stages of duplicating film. Later on, it became possible to use a service bureau to have a negative made using their image-setting equipment. Now, of course, using Burkholder’s method, many times with refinements added by others, a suitable negative can be made using an ink-jet printer.

As for the coating on the paper, the platinum process is one of many that depend on the reduction of a metallic salt to a pure metal. Instead of silver, which is most commonly used, platinum and/or its sister metal palladium make a high quality reproduction. Those with bit of background in photographic history know that in the nineteenth century, silver compounds were coating on paper as well. At the turn of the century, when commercially prepared silver gelatin paper became available, commercial platinum/palladium paper followed. However, pre-prepared platinum/palladium paper went out of production after World War I, though a packaged palladium paper was briefly available in the 1990s.

Arentz is known for his subtle, yet vivid and luminescent black and white photography presented through platinum and palladium prints and fine art photography books. His books are profound personal statements of his unique vision. Besides Platinum and Palladium Printing, Second Edition (2004), Arentz has published Four Corners Country (1986) with introduction by Philip Hyde, The American Southwest (1987), Outside the Mainstream (1990), British Isles (2002) and Italy Through a Different Lens (2009).

For more about his development as a photographer and lead technician of his printing medium, and for his words of wisdom about projects, making subjects fresh and capturing unusual perspectives seek out the Black and White Special Issue of Outdoor Photographer in print and on newsstands and in bookstores now. It can often be found at Barnes & Noble and some Safeways. The August Black and White Special Issue is also loaded with many other excellent articles on black and white photography. An online version of the article is now available at Master of Platinum. If you want the print version, pick up your copy soon because special issues sometimes sell out early.

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?

San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 15

July 9th, 2013

Technical Aspects of Visualization

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 14.”)

Landscape Photography Blogger Note:

Bristlecone Pine Snag Against Sky, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. 8X10 Deardorff Large Format View Camera.

Bleached Juniper Trunk On Ridge Above Parson’s Lodge, Cumulus Clouds, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. 8X10 Deardorff Large Format View Camera.

(View the photograph large: “Bleached Juniper Trunk, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite.”)

Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White were all proponents of visualization or pre-visualization as it is sometimes called. Ansel Adams wrote about visualization, as did Minor White to some extent. However, few, if any, of their students ever published any lecture notes sharing the contents of lectures on the subject. Here for what is likely the first time ever published, are the notes from star photography student Philip Hyde on a lecture by Minor White during the summer session, on August 19, 1947. Today is Minor White’s birthday. He was born on July 9, 1908.

Half way through the class lecture in 1947, Minor White shifted into a technical discussion regarding film density, exposure, the Zone System, film testing, tonal reproduction, tonal separation, contrast control by underdevelopment, various aspects of darkroom processing, waterbath formulas, and other details of film darkroom photography. The purpose of the lecture was to applying darkroom post-processing tools to carry out and complete the process of visualization as begun at the point of exposure in the field with the camera. This technical discussion consisted mainly of graphs and charts that do not apply to today’s digital photography and in some cases not even to today’s film photography. This complex portion of Minor White’s lecture is omitted here, for the most part, with some portions summarized, leaving us with the non-technical core of the subject.

These lecture notes are presented here mainly as a historical record, more than for teaching or learning purposes, though they may serve the latter two purposes as well, with certain readers. More on the theory and philosophy of visualization will follow in future articles and blog posts. Yet this lecture, may put into perspective how relatively easy making good photographs has become, due to technology replacing many of the processes mentioned below. Photoshop is certainly not simple, nor do we now merely press one button that eliminates all visual distractions and turns our images into artistic masterpieces, as many uninformed people seem to believe. Nonetheless, the lecture below puts into perspective the level of diligence involved in darkroom black and white photography. Which of these two post-processing methods do you feel took more skill? Or if the skills are different, how do they compare?

Technical Aspects of Visualization Lecture By Minor White

Philip Hyde’s Notes August 19, 1947
Visualization

Visualization is the basis of creative photography as taught at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) photography school. Visualization is simply visualizing, imagining in the mind, the final print while looking at the scene you are photographing. The approach to applying visualization is to place tones on a scale, in the 10 gradations of tone in the Zone System and internalizing the relationship of exposure to development taking into consideration the relationship between exposure and density of the film being used.

Any tone in nature can be reproduced with exposure control exactly as is with normal development. This is considered a normal exposure to development relationship. The relationship of tones remains the same with normal development. Less than normal development will compact the relationship, that is, it will compact the scale of tones. More than normal development will stretch the scale.

A full-scale print is one in which all the values of the 10 Zone scale are present including white and black, Zones 0-9. When exposure is graphed against density, there is a portion of the curve at the beginning, or toe, where the curve gradually increases steepness. This toe portion of the curve is preferred for enlargement, but can cause loss of accuracy of tonal relationships in darker areas. The curve then straightens out. This part of the curve is where tonal reproduction is accurate. The top, or shoulder, of the curve, where it gradually decreases steepness, is the least desirable for photographic enlargement and printing.

The lightest Zones, Zones I, II and III are on the toe portion of the graph and will be less dense than expected. Contrast can be controlled by underdevelopment. This must be determined by testing of the film to see whether upper or lower values will contrast more and in what relation to development. When lower values are in the toe, they can suffer serious loss of tonal quality. A good waterbath helps to increase separation in the lower tones, or the toe of the curve(s) and decreases or diminishes this effect in the upper Zones. Testing is done with a gradated step wedge.

Lens testing is also related to the success or failure of visualization efforts. Testing lenses determines the differences between theoretical and actual light transmission, due to flare, aberrations in the lens and technique of the photographer.

(Continued in the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 16.”)

For those of you who did both post-processing in a film darkroom and now use Photoshop, Lightroom or some equivalent, do you feel traditional film black and white photography or digital photography post-processing is more difficult? In what ways are the challenges of each different?

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.”

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