Photography’s Golden Era 10

February 22nd, 2011 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

California School of Fine Arts Application Questions

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 9” in which Philip Hyde shared how the teaching of Minor White and Ansel Adams differed. For more on the teaching of Minor White and Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute see also the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 7.”)

Locomotive Drive Gear Parts, Northwest Pacific Railroad Yards, Tiburon, Marin County, California, 1948 by Philip Hyde. Part of a photography school project.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Ansel Adams taught the 1946 Summer Session at the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute. The 1946 Summer Session, besides being an intensive round-the-clock photography experience, was also an opportunity for students to either show they were ready for the full-time professional training classes or were to stay with more of the evening classes geared more toward amateurs and semi-professional training.

In his book The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts, Jeff Gunderson wrote that by the Fall 1946 class, a more in-depth application had also been devised to better determine whether students were ready for the full-time course. By September 1947 there were 20 full-time students for the new fall class. Due to a mix up, Philip Hyde’s application did not get processed for the Fall 1946 Class. He had to wait until the Fall 1947 Class to start at the San Francisco Art Institute. For the story of what he did for that year read the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 6.”

We have not yet found Philip Hyde’s application for enrollment. He must have filled out one of the forms below, either in 1946 or 1947. The following are the application questions for the Fall 1947 California School of Fine Arts Photography Department full-time student application:




Because of the great number of requests for entrance in the Photography class of Fall 1947, it has become necessary to ask you to answer a few questions. It will aid us greatly in selecting students for the Fall class if you will answer them as carefully as possible.

NAME:                                                                                    DATE:


1.     Age?

2.     What schooling have you had?

3.     Are your abilities and preferences more mechanical than intellectual? Do you do things with your hands well or only moderately well?

4.     What kind of music do you like best?

5.     Why do you want to learn photography?

6.     If you have had less than two years of university or college training, why do you seek to enter a photography school rather than go to college or complete your work there? (It is recommended that all potential photographers obtain a college degree before attempting to become professionals, although this is not an essential condition of entrance to this school.)

7.     If you have finished college, what was your major and minor and what extra-curricular activities did you have?

8.     Do you intend to aim for the high bracket money reputed to be available to the top-flight commercial or journalistic photographer?

9.     Are you willing to accept a low wage standard for most of your life in order to follow photography as a means of expressing yourself? In other words, do you wish most of all to use the camera as an art medium?

10.  Briefly stated, what are your impressions of the following photographers?  Valentino Sara, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Edward Steichen, Lisette Model, Berenice Abbott, D.O. Hill, Alfred Stieglitz, George Hurell, George Platt Lynes.

11.  What cameras have you worked with? What experience have you had with photography?

12.  What is your opinion of the present day Salon?

(Please use separate sheet of paper for answers.)

For background on the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute see the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 8.” To read a summary of the beginnings of Ansel Adam’s photography department, the first art school program to teach photography as a full-time profession, see the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 1.” To read the controversy over whether the present day is another Golden Era, see the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 2.” Find an overview of the first straight photography, Paul Strand, Group f64 and Alfred Stieglitz in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 5” and the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 3.” To read about other early influences on Philip Hyde and his father’s wilderness painting, see the blog posts, “Photography’s Golden Era 4,” and “Minor White Letters 1.” For an overview of Philip Hyde’s black and white printing and role in the introduction of color to landscape photography see the blog post, “Black And White Prints, Collectors And Philip Hyde.”

The series will continue in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 11.”



  1. pj says:

    The question that interests me the most is ”what kind of music do you like best?” Adams, among others, often wrote about the similarities between music and photography. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s the most relevant question of all of them.

  2. Thank you PJ, interesting perspective. My father played piano in his youth and was quite good for his age, but he didn’t play as much from his teenage years on. In his autobiography Ansel Adams touched on the parallels between music and photography, mainly emphasizing the importance of practice and discipline. Do you remember seeing other writings where Ansel Adams mentioned similarities between music and photography? Do you recall who else wrote about such similarities?

  3. pj says:

    Right off the top of my head I can’t remember, but Adams might have gone into it more in his letters. All my books are still packed away so I can’t look anything up right now. I know I’ve read others who have also mentioned parallels between music and photography. Might be an interesting topic to dig into a little more. It’s something I’ve often thought to post about but I’ve never gotten around to it.

  4. Hi PJ, I appreciate this thread. I’ve always been into music myself. I played the trombone and the drum set in high school and guitar since I was a young boy. Seems like I’ve read comparisons of photography and music somewhere else besides Ansel Adams too. Please let me know anything you find out. I look forward to a blog post about it as well, if that’s what you decide to do once you get your books out again.

  5. Mr. Adams wrote about the correlation between music and photography in his biography, I believe. Or maybe it was in his autobiography. I hope there isn’t too much connection as I have no musical talent. 🙂

    What a fascinating list of questions, David! The third was intriguing – are they implying you need more mechanical skills or more intellectual. I would wonder if that was a trick question if I were filling it out.


  6. Thank you, Sharon. Your results with photography more than make up for your stated lack in musical skill. 😉 Good point and inquiry about Question #3. It seems like a number of the questions are a little tricky. This may be due to Minor White writing the questions to begin with and then Ansel Adams adding more questions and making more suggestions that may have changed their flavor. I believe Minor White and Ansel Adams also obtained input on the questionnaire from California School of Fine Arts Director Douglas MacAgy. Ansel Adams may have written or had more influence on Question #3 than some of the other questions. Ansel Adams discussed in his autobiography and I wrote about in “Photography’s Golden Era 9,” the differences in teaching approaches between Ansel Adams and Minor White. Ansel Adams heavily emphasized craft and technical ability, whereas Minor White’s approach was more psychological, spiritual and even intellectual. Knowing this, as some of the student applicants did at the time, makes #3 even more of a trick question, though the answer is hinted at in the second part of the question. I can say most definitely, based on conversation with my father and other students about what was most emphasized in photography school, that what they were looking to determine with that question was how mechanically inclined the applicants were. Ansel Adams, Dad and others have written and talked about how they felt strongly that photographers need to have a combination of manual skill and creativity. Besides, the person who is mechanically and technically inclined can best understand Ansel Adams “basic” book series on photography, which were the main subject matter for much of the courses at the California School of Fine Arts photography program. I have always been blown away at how handy my father was and how he could essentially design, build or rebuild nearly anything. All of the testing, hand building and work with various photography apparatus, was part of what Ansel Adams taught and in what Dad excelled. Dad often talked about how his attending Polytechnic High School and taking many shop and drafting classes, later helped him in landscape photography. I don’t think this applies to you, Sharon, but Question #3 may be more confusing to young photographers today who are raised and trained on the internet with its vast plethora of intellectual and theoretical discussions on photography. However, in the early days, and certainly in the eyes of Ansel Adams and my father, technical inclination and real world practical hand skills were far more important than intellectualism.

  7. Derrick says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post since I read it last week when you first published it David – the big question I kept asking myself is, if the same characters were around today – or perhaps we could even ask the fellas that are at the top of the game today – if you had to ask a group of questions to photographers today, in 2011, would they be the same questions, or different!?

  8. Derrick, great question. I too would be curious to hear what contemporary photographers say about this. Maybe some will offer their opinion here. My feeling is that the questions above are interesting because they are a product of their era. After straight photography and the photography exhibitions of Group f64 expanded the photography world, starting a photography program for professional photographers became possible and needed for the first time. Before Ansel Adams and Minor White, nobody else had written application questions for a school for professional photography. Now thousands of photography school professors have written such questions. They have probably done sophisticated tests in some instances to see what questions accomplish what. Also, photography has come full-circle. We have had 70 years of straight photography and with the advent of Photoshop and other creative alteration of the images, we are creating what in many cases is an entirely new medium, or mixed media. So, I predict many of the questions will be different. However, some of the questions might remain the same or similar for much longer than 70 years. It would be interesting to look into it further.

  9. Greg Russell says:

    I have to laugh at Sharon’s comment; although I love music, I have zero musical ability…I also hope there’s no correlation!

    This is an interesting set of questions indeed. Questions 8 and 9 are an intriguing duo too. I wonder how many people today would answer #9 honestly? Not that they’d be liars per se if they didn’t answer honestly, but I would think it would take quite a bit of soul searching to follow creative expression over money.

    Thanks for the links to the other posts, David. I want to revisit them soon, with this current post in mind.


  10. Hi Greg, you have many talents that make up for your stated missing skill in music. Besides, it might be better to admit you have no musical ability and never even sing, than to sing off key and play as badly as I do anymore. The English language is an interesting device by which any two topics can be related or unrelated depending on how it is argued. Questions #8 and #9, in my opinion, touch on some of what is most important for photographers today to learn from studying the methods and teachings of Ansel Adams’ photography department. As far as I’m concerned, way too many photographers today, including landscape photographers, are in it just because they find it a more pleasant way to make a buck. If you don’t have a deep need to create something out of the ordinary, if you are not passionate about photography, about art and making art, and about nature and the natural world if you are a landscape photographer, then there are much easier and more appropriate ways to make money. Many others get into landscape photography because of the romantic notion of it. They like the idea of being a photographer, but they are not willing to dedicate themselves to sincerely connecting with and learning about nature. They objectify nature as a source for pretty pictures for postcards. All for the sake of aggrandizing their own egos with praise, sales and compliments on their derivative, over-manipulated non-art. Of course today, financial viability is always a consideration when undertaking any endeavor. There is nothing wrong with making money, or making money a priority. However, it is wise to place it at least second place behind producing good art and maintaining artistic integrity. In the days the above questionnaire came into being, there was little market for art photography. Not only was it necessary to indoctrinate the troops as to the merits of pursuing such a course anyway, but additionally both Ansel Adams and Minor White believed that a photographer’s primary dedication was best put toward developing quality artistic sensibilities and attitudes that would have the best chance of producing the best photography possible, rather than to focus primarily on earning a living with a camera.

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