Posts Tagged ‘Alfred Stieglitz’

Lessons in Composition From “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years” at De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco Art Museums

December 3rd, 2020

Art Show Review: Lessons in Composition

From “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years”

De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco Art Museums

Are You Rehashing Reductive Rules?

Indian Rhubarb and Reflections, Spanish Creek, Fall, Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click 3X to enlarge.) A few people have said this photograph looks like a Monet painting. I do not make photographs to look like paintings intentionally, but if one does, so be it. I like abstract subjects and photograph them whenever possible. Paul Strand’s straight negatives were not altered in any way, but many of them were abstract and their subjects unrecognizable, though they were straight out of the camera.

Everything you have learned about composition is wrong. Most “tips” in workshops and on photoblogs are either purposely or by default overly simplistic, unnecessary and even melodramatic as presented by some teachers today. Many of the “secrets” like “never split the frame with a vertical” or “with the horizon,” “use leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the image” and so on, are reductive and often broken by the masters of painting, photography and other visual arts.

Today a painter or photographer starting out may turn to books or more often magazines or blogs to learn craft and technique. Contemporary art publications, online schools and forums, especially in landscape photography, teach composition as a series of logical, “left-brain” methods and techniques. They discuss the merits and limitations of the rule of thirds and drop nuggets of wisdom about foreground interest, emphasizing the subject, eliminating non-essential distractions, sweeping the edges of the frame, simplifying the image, filling the frame, finding background contrast and on and on. Some blogs have devoted large portions of content to discussions on how well participants have applied these techniques to various example photographs. Others get into dissecting and analyzing “composition conundrums faced by landscape photographers,” as one popular blog post said.

All of these serve a purpose and act as a starting point, providing some value in the early stages of learning photography. Beyond that however, if you pack all of this stuff, rattling around in your mind, out into the field and consciously attempt to apply it while making images, it will be like hauling a backpack full of rocks. It will provide little in the way of nourishment or comfort, will slow you down and more often than not result in dead, unimaginative photographs.

Many teachers today, besides presenting formulaic material, follow each other around to the same locations that have been on the landscape photography bucket list for generations. Fifty to seventy years ago, many of these scenes were fresh, but today most landscape photographers are missing one of the obviously lesser known fundamentals of seeing: great art is not necessarily about the subject. The pervasive mentality is that to make a name in landscape photography you must pursue certain views and certain types of scenes. This often sends new camera owners on a far-flung tour, with little thought other than, “I can do it too, or maybe even better if I am lucky to have dramatic light or weather.” Some photographers get hooked on travel and years later are still jet setting all over the world, when they could just as easily find great photographs closer to home, use less petroleum and develop a deeper connection to the culture and land. No wonder most of what we see online and across the industry is starting to look the same.

Throughout the history of art, examples abound of the greatest works breaking the rules of composition, while at the same time maintaining a sense of equilibrium and balance or dynamic off-balance that grabs the viewer’s attention and holds it. Which brings us to the next logical question: How did the masters learn to make successful art without enslaving themselves to rote techniques and guidelines? There are probably as many possible answers as artists, though there are also common patterns among renowned artists.

Straight Photography, Pictorialism and Photography as an Art

Abstraction, Porch Shadow, 1915 by Paul Strand. Paul Strand’s negatives were straight, not post-processed in any way, but many were abstract and their subjects unrecognizable. (Click Twice to See Large)

Like today, in the early 20th Century, until about 1930, clichés proliferated. Technique and gimmick-heavy Pictorialism ruled the day because many thought making photographs look otherworldly, unreal or like paintings was the best way to get photography recognized as an art. It did not work then and is still questionable now. What did more than anything else to establish photography as a fine art was the crisp, fresh, precision craft only possible with a camera, as made by Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and many of their students and kindred spirits such as my father, William Garnett, Brett Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Minor White, Dick Arentz, Al Weber, Dave Bohne and those still living from the same lineage such as John Sexton, Bob Kolbrenner, Jack Dykinga, Charles Cramer, Carr Clifton and a few others.

During the heyday of straight photography, galleries, museums, auction houses and the art establishment had the most interest in photography. Today, the exposure of landscape photography is expanding in certain types of magazines and in tourist galleries in some of the world’s most popular destinations, but the art establishment has left behind contemporary landscapes, especially in color. Galleries, museums and other fine art venues look down on the genre with disdain. This does not have to be.

Attempting to attain dynamic balance in your work through following someone else’s tips, will mainly bring derivative results, whereas through ongoing immersion in a variety of genres and by studying the masters in many disciplines, you can develop an innate sense of what works and what does not. There are no shortcuts to mastery in art and no short list of 10 secrets will take you where in-depth study can. When Ansel Adams founded the world’s first college level photography program to teach creative photography as a profession at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Arts Institute, he and lead instructor Minor White and the other organizers required students to take a well-rounded set of electives from many of the other art departments at the school including music, ceramics, sculpture and others.

My father, pioneer conservation photographer Philip Hyde, applied to the program and at first his application was misplaced and delayed a year. In response, another mentor and guest lecturer at CSFA, Edward Weston, suggested that since Dad had the G.I. Bill paying his tuition anyway, he might as well take some elective art classes at UC Berkeley while he was waiting to start photography school. Dad signed up for Interior Design, painting and calligraphy. His professor for calligraphy turned out to be the eminent Japanese painter Chiura Obata, who had recently been released from the World War II Japanese concentration camp at Manzanar on the East Side of the Sierra. Learning from Obata turned out to be an unforgettable experience that deeply influenced the way Dad saw any given subject. Through the example and influence of his mentors, both at UC Berkeley and CSFA, Dad became a student of a wide range of types of art. Dad often explained to his students in turn that Ansel Adams and Minor White hardly talked about composition, at least not in terms of quantified rules, but in the context of the relationships, forms and arrangements found in many forms of art and photography.

Before Impressionism Became Impressionism

The great Impressionist Claude Monet broke more of the rules of composition more often than almost anyone else, while producing a completely new kind of art that still soothes, calms and delights the world. During his early career, when he struggled to keep his family from starving, Monet had already begun to make the innovations that would shake up the art establishment.

Monet enjoyed early success when the Paris Salón accepted his first submission, but many rejections followed. He had to rely on his parents and others to survive, while despite his clear mastery of technique, critics labeled him and the group of painters he associated with revolutionaries and troublemakers. In time he would reinvent how textures were applied, develop new brush styles, specialize in portraying the effects of light like no other painter before him and play a central role in the development of Impressionism.

Monet’s departures from tradition were vividly evident in two contemporary exhibitions of his paintings that toured before the Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic began. “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years,” curated by George T.M. Shackelford of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas and originated there in partnership with San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums. Both shows toured nationally and made a stop in San Francisco at the De Young Legion of Honor Museum.

Fountain and Sunburst, de Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click Twice to See Large)

My friend Ronald Schmidt and I saw “Monet: The Early Years” at the Legion of Honor. Mr. Schmidt was my 8th Grade English teacher, but moved to San Francisco years ago and became a member of many of the best museums. He invited me to see both Monet shows, but because unfortunately I never made it to see “Monet: The Late Years,” I will refer to online and book reproductions of the paintings. These paintings from Monet’s later career will also be the most accessible in some ways, though most dramatically break the mold of earlier art. Having pored over art books as a boy and become partial to the Impressionists, I was most enthused to see “Monet: The Early Years,” because while both shows promised to include paintings I had not seen before, the first exhibition would tell the story of how the French master got started.

The Legion of Honor Museum: American Home of Great European Art

Winding up through the neighborhoods and trees to see the California Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum shining bright white in the afternoon sun atop the highest point in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park, made for a dramatic buildup to the show. The Legion of Honor grounds offer sweeping views of the city, the Marin Headlands across San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Arriving at the parking lot, we stepped out of the car and stared at the light patterns on the water of the aquamarine pool and glinting off the spray of the fountain, which danced in the late sunlight. After a long moment, I reached back into the car, grabbed my camera and started making images. I photographed the entrance gate with striking shadows, acting as a portal for people with illuminated halos. Moving into the courtyard I captured a few couples in various poses, caught details of columns and shadows, but once inside there were only stark white walls until we reached the entrance to the Monet Exhibit on the main floor.

Front Gate From Front Door, De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

The Legion of Honor is a smaller replica of the Louvre Museum in Paris. The grounds, courtyard and interior of the Legion of Honor are permanent home to over 70 Rodin statues. As you walk up toward the front gate, you enter another world far away from the bustle of the surrounding city. Architect George Applegarth’s massive columns support a colonnade that surrounds the courtyard. Just inside the front gate, you are greeted by one of the original casts of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Behind this powerful statue rises a low glass pyramid, reminiscent of I.M. Pei’s installation at the Louvre. See also Greatest Hits of European Art on the Hills of San Francisco. Once inside the museum, you find yourself in a large central space with galleries extending in all four directions. The Legion of Honor is the perfect setting for two exhibitions of one of Europe’s most celebrated Impressionists.

At the entrance of “Monet: The Early Years,” my friend Ron and I were greeted initially by a large wall text. The first painting could be seen beyond the wall text. The text ran from ceiling down to the floor, all in white block letters on a white background:

INTRODUCTION

Before his success, before there was even the term “Impressionism,” Claude Monet labored to define his style and promote himself as an artist. Two forces drove him: his will to be a painter and his desire to become critically and commercially successful. During his early career, Monet struggled to provide food and shelter for himself and his family while creating innovations that would turn the art world upside down.

Just past this text wall, one of Monet’s most ambitious early paintings, “Luncheon on the Grass,” dominated another large wall straight ahead. The label identified it as, “Claude Monet, ‘Luncheon on the Grass, Central Panel’, 1865–66. Oil on canvas, 97 X 85 inches. Musée d’Orsay, Paris” It was too large to contain in a photograph, but I had already tucked my camera away anyway, so as not to be distracted from viewing the paintings while inside the show. The picnic scene splashed across the whole wall and looked almost as though you could walk into it, with bright figures as large and vivid as life sitting in front of a dark, primeval forest. The figure of Monet’s first wife, Camille, who appears more than any other character in Monet’s early paintings, in “Luncheon on the Grass” gestures toward the viewer with an empty plate, as if to invite us to sit down and join the group enjoying their wine and refreshments.

Monet Effortlessly Broke the Rules of Composition and Worked Hard to Capture the Light and Mood

Luncheon on the Grass, 1865-1866, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

The first three or four paintings were innovations in breaking the rules of composition, as it turns out so also were most of the works in the exhibition. More panels told the stories of Monet’s early painting life. Camille and the other figures in the various paintings were revealed not by detail, but by Monet’s stunning observation of detail and light, as well as a stark precision of emotion and feeling. Even though Monet’s painting style left out many details, the mood and time of day in the scenes gleamed in whites and other suggested, subtle textures. Because the shapes, colors and subjects stood out well and captured the eye, the arrangements of the figures and other subjects could be random, unusual and striking.

In ‘Luncheon on the Grass,’ it is almost as though Monet shifted the frame up and to the left. Part of this shifting and imbalance of the whole composition was exacerbated by the fact that this was only the central panel of the painting, the others having mildewed in Monet’s landlord’s basement while being held as collateral for rent, but the composition would have been skewed anyway. We see only part of the dress and arm of one lady on the left, while large areas of white space and extra forest greenery open up on the right. The picnic blanket is cut off at the bottom, but yet the open, less defined forest soars far above the heads of the figures at the top.

Beach at Trouville, 1870, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

“The Beach at Trouville” cuts off interesting right side features such as the stairways and buildings in favor of showing more of the open beach, ocean and the expanse of sky, which is the largest feature of the piece. In the painting, ‘Hyde Park,’ Monet slices off a quarter of his right side tree, while including significant open space to the right of the vista. If anything, rather than creating dynamic balance and following the rules of composition, in much of his early work, Monet purposely built his images out of symmetry, but not out of balance or equilibrium. His interest seems to be in disrupting our sensibilities, not in working with them.

Monet, perhaps better than any other artist ever, mastered the portrayal of mood in settings and people. Besides choosing lighter or darker tones, his ability to see and capture the effects of light on objects and scenes and his use of great expanses of sky, though often detrimental to perfect composition, enabled him to visually show the feeling of any given place. In this sense, form, subject and the arrangement of objects within the frame, were subordinate to and less important than the emotions he wanted to elicit. Examples abound in his early and late work.

Hyde Park, 1871, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

In the paintings exhibited in “Monet: The Early Years,” for example, we can compare the somber hues in “Hyde Park” to the bright, white dominated, yet also colorful scene in “The Beach at Trouville.”

Monet also used composition to indicate what was important in a painting. For example, in “The Cradle” the baby and cradle occupied the center and were depicted in bright, colorful and white tones, while Camille sitting at the baby’s side was only a little over halfway in the frame and outlined in dark olives, grays and blacks.

The Green Wave, 1866, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

In “The Green Wave,” the top third of the mast and sails of the sailboat are out of the frame. Very little space is allowed for a large sailing ship in the distance and another boat also sailing on the same Green Wave. On the other hand, a large, open space of the ocean in the foreground dominates the painting. The sailboats are not the subject of the piece, the ocean and the wave are. Cutting off the top of the sailboat and devoting over one third of the entire painting to the nearly unvaried green wave also make the creations of man small in the face of nature, another theme of the painting. “La Grenouillére,” on the surface is a painting of the lively swimming hole on the Seine in Paris. The exhibition text explained the painting:

La Grenouillére, 1869, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

“Monet’s “La Grenouillére,” portraying a popular bathing spot on the Seine, carefully captured in color brushstrokes the effects of light, rendering a feeling of pleasure. The men and women sit leisurely at the café, converse under the central tree, partake in swimming, and prepare for a boat ride out on the sun-drenched water. Yet the true subject of this painting is perhaps the river itself. While the activity of the figures is evoked through quick, energetic dashes of the brush, Monet lavished attention on the water, its multiple colors, its reflections, and its depths.”

Monet continued to break with convention in his later work, but not to the extent he did as a young master, until the last 10 years of his life. Robert Taylor described “Monet: The Early Years” in the San Jose Mercury News as a “stunning, exuberant show of nearly 60 paintings, a revelation for art lovers who think they’ve already seen everything Monet has to offer… They haven’t seen the radical Monet, the experimental Monet, the artist whose bold, dramatic paintings are in high contrast to the placid, familiar garden settings.” Read more, “Monet, The Early Years Sheds Surprising Light on Painter.”

Shakelford, the curator of the show said, “He was taking what Gustave Courbet had done with realism and pushing it forward. He was using bigger brushstrokes. His seascapes are pretty daring, pretty tough-minded.” Yet Shakelford said as viewers move through the exhibition, “we bring people around to the Monet they expected: lovely, lighter, optimistic.”

Over and over in Monet’s early paintings he not only placed objects and people in the very center of the picture, a supposed composition “no-no,” but he also gave them extra emphasis with line and color, which further accentuated their central prominence in the work. The “imperfect” compositions serve another function as well. Because nature was most often his primary subject, imbalance within the frame helped to convey the imperfections in nature, while also showing how perfect nature is anyway, even in its imperfection, just like Monet’s paintings.

Every painting in “Monet: The Early Years” broke at least one of the rules mentioned here. Some of Monet’s creations broke all of the rules. Monet’s work and that of many of the other impressionists, cubists, modernists and postmodernists are good resources for studying why compositions that break the rules often have more impact than those that conform.

Japanese Bridge, 1899, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

A good number of Monet’s later paintings are also two-thirds or three-quarters sky, or one other element, perhaps a hay field, or a beach. He often split the horizon, placed objects directly in the center or ignored other popular aesthetic preferences. What is going on here? Perhaps if your subject matter and the light on it are depicted well enough, you don’t need the “rules of composition.” That is, if you show other attributes of genius in your work, a dissonance of composition or other departures from standard practice may be possible or even desirable.

Monet Takes Abstraction Further

“Monet: The Late Years,” turned out to be laden with departures as well. The San Francisco Weekly described the show as, “An exhibit of Claude Monet’s final 13 years that included paintings of water lilies that were never publicly viewed during the Impressionist master’s lifetime.” Read more, “The Color of Monet: Get Ready for De Young’s Blockbuster Show.” Monet’s last major metamorphosis came about late in life while he painted his own estate in Giverney, France. With the help of hired gardeners, Monet kept his gardens and water features in idyllic condition. At the same time, his own eyesight began to fade. These factors combined to manifest as greater and greater abstraction in his paintings. He was mourning the death of his second wife, Alice, in 1911 and his son, Jean, in 1914. Cataracts threatened to eliminate his sight completely, just as some of the battles of World War I backed the French army almost up to his doorstep. His paintings became more and more of an escape into an unreal world. The SFist said, “Things get downright psychadelic by the 1920s, when Monet was blind in one eye and had only 10 percent sight left in the other,” in the review, “6 Things to Know Before Going to the deYoung’s ‘Monet: The Late Years’ Exhibit.”

Japanese Bridge, 1899, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

Shakelford, the curator, argued that Monet’s late paintings were nothing less than the beginnings of Modern Art. Abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Ellsworth Kelly cited Monet as an inspiration. Kelly said that Monet’s late work changed him when he saw two of the paintings in Switzerland. Indeed, Monet’s “The Japanese Bridge,” one of his most abstract late paintings came as a loan from Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum Basel.

Many of his later paintings, though abstract, remained attractive to collectors because of their pleasing colors, but paintings from Monet’s last decade, made as his eyesight faded, were even more subtle and less striking. They were so subtle, there was no market for them. It took until many years later, after Impressionism took the world by storm, in most cases long after the painters themselves were gone, for some of the more obscure paintings by Monet and the others to be recognized as great and valued with the rest of the Impressionist canon. Unusual compositions in Monet’s early work did not turn off the art establishment nearly as much as the breaking of other conventions in art.

Japanese Bridge, 1918, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

We could deconstruct Monet paintings until the cows come home to eat haystacks, but regardless of the explanations, what he did in his creations worked, even if in some cases, his paintings did not please the sensibilities of the time, they brought a new awareness and eventually changed how people viewed art and how people made art. Rather than characterizing composition as merely another technique, or attainment through a series of formulas, Monet remade it. Likewise in photography, Edward Weston advised aspiring photographers that composition is merely the strongest way of seeing. Adams, Weston and the other members of Group f.64 reinvented photography by eliminating rules, not by adding to them. We don’t learn to be great artists by studying formulas or memorizing techniques, but through deep observation of our subjects, perhaps by seeing them as deeply as Monet did with failing eyesight, or as profoundly as Edward Weston did. Weston said, “To photograph a rock make it look like a rock, but be more than a rock.” We learn from how great artists before us depicted the subjects we wish to depict, even if this means, seeing beyond what is being depicted. This is perhaps why dying people wish to view Monet paintings one last time before they go. There is more in them than we readily see, perhaps a glimpse of the light beyond that Monet himself could see better near the end. We take ideas from great art and try them in our own work and ultimately in our lives. One idea works, another is a flop today, but next month, next year, or someday, perhaps an idea works in a new situation.

Japanese Bridge, 1924, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

Artists whose photography or paintings endure give us a transcendent experience. Walking through “Monet: The Early Years,” my friend Ron and I discussed feeling exhilarated and awakened by the spirit of Monet’s paintings and the force of his creativity. Being in the presence of his artwork, we experienced his psyche and took a bit of it home. I can say without doubt that Monet’s paintings changed me, just as they did Ellsworth Kelly. Seeing any great artist’s creations gathered and isolated to bring out their full impact gives us a metaphysical and tangible experience, a momentary sense of another’s life. We left refreshed and re-energized, determined and full of insight. We were enriched by our exposure to excellence and by seeking it over the rehash of mundane technique.

Philip Hyde in “Ansel Adams: Before and After” at the Booth Western Art Museum

December 15th, 2015

Ansel Adams Before and After

Exhibition at the Booth Western Art Museum

Over 400 People Attended the SOLD OUT Opening Reception…

Aspens, San Miguel River, San Juan Rockies, Colorado, 1974 by Philip Hyde. One of the images Lumiere is showing as part of the Lumiere Holiday Collection. The other two Philip Hyde photographs shown as part of the online exhibition are "Virginia Creeper, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, 1977" and "Mt. Denali, Reflection Pond, Denali National Park, Alaska, 1971."

Aspens, San Miguel River, San Juan Rockies, Colorado, 1974 by Philip Hyde. Courtesy of Lumiere Gallery.

In 2010, the second largest museum in Georgia, the Booth Western Art Museum, hosted an exhibition called Ansel Adams: A Legacy. This show attained a new milestone in attendance and helped the Booth establish creative photography as an important part of its future with the associated creation of the Booth Photography Guild.

The Booth Western Art Museum, affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute Museums in Washington DC, now presents a new exhibition, Ansel Adams: Before and After, which has already set new precedents in several ways. The outside marketing and publicity by photographers, galleries and other associates for Ansel Adams: Before and After was dark for the first 30 days. The Booth wanted to see how its own community would respond to museum originated outreach.

From the show text:

Exhibition Opening Reception and Lecture SOLD OUT!
On Saturday, November 14, 2015, over 400 people sat in awe of Dr. Michael Adams, son of legendary photographer, Ansel Adams, as he gave the keynote speech for the opening of Ansel Adams: Before and After. Many of the attendees had the opportunity to hear from contemporary photographers Cara Weston and Bob Kolbrener, who are both highlighted in the exhibition.

The Booth Western Art Museum sold $10.00 tickets to the show opening and could not fit any more people into the facility. The Booth written materials also refer to Ansel Adams as the most recognized name in photography. Ansel Adams is not only the most recognized name in photography, but the most recognized western photographer in Georgia and other southern and eastern states. The new Booth show is helping to change that though because besides exhibiting more than 25 original photographs by Ansel Adams, the more than 100 total works in the show “represent 24 photographers who influenced Ansel Adams, worked at the same time as his peers, or are contemporary artists and professional image makers who have been influenced by his legacy.”

The Influence of Ansel Adams

Ansel Adam’s influence on the entire medium of photography continues to show up in imagery today. Furthermore, those who worked with him cite him as one of their most significant influences. Having co-founded with Beaumont Newhall the world’s first photography department in a major museum at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and having founded the first photography department in an art school to teach creative photography as a full-time profession at the California School of Fine Art, now the San Francisco Art Institute, Ansel Adams with more students than any other photographer in history, has influenced photography more than any other single photographer.

The exhibition also shows how photographers influenced by Ansel Adams, such as Philip Hyde, have influenced others. Ansel Adams was a teacher of teachers. “Aspens, San Miguel River, Rocky Mountains, Colorado” by Philip Hyde shows Ansel Adams’ influence, while “Spot Lit Trees II, Yosemite, California” by Robert Weingarten is reminiscent of Philip Hyde’s aspen image. Considering that Philip Hyde led some of the earliest color Ansel Adams Workshops and Robert Weingarten participated as a student and a teacher in his own right with the Ansel Adams Workshops, these and other influences had plenty of fertile opportunities to develop.

How Modernism Began in Photography

Curators and art critics have called Edward Weston the father of modern photography. As co-founder of Group f64 with Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and Dorothea Lange, also part of the current Booth exhibit Ansel Adams: Before and After, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams were the spiritual leaders of the group whose members found themselves all moving away from pictorialism around the same time in the early 1930s. In the early part of the 20th Century, photographers practicing pictorialism using various techniques in lighting and soft focus and other effects to make photographs look like paintings with the intent that photography would be accepted as art and shown in museums and galleries.

With the striking example of the clean, crisp, sharp focused throughout, naturally lit images of Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz vocally abandoned pictorialism and embraced realism. He had the financial resources and influence in the arts to support like-minded photographers like those in Group f64 in California. Group f64, Stieglitz and Strand pioneered the modernist aesthetic in photography. Nature, natural objects, simple nudes, scenes of everyday life and people portrayed as they were found became the subjects and these were given space to breathe in compositions. Photography trailed behind some of the other arts in transitioning to modernism, but Encyclopedia Britannica defines well the rise of this revolution in the arts overall:

Modernism in the arts is a radical break with the past and the concurrent search for new forms of expression. Modernism fostered a period of experimentation in the arts from the 19th to the mid-20th Century, particularly in the years following World War I. In an era characterized by industrialization, rapid social change, and advances in science and the social sciences, Modernists felt a growing alienation incompatible with Victorian morality, optimism, and convention. New ideas in psychology, philosophy and political theory kindled a search for new modes of expression.

Photographs on Display in the Show

Ansel Adams: Before and After progresses chronologically through the work of Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Group f64, then later contemporaries and early protégés of Ansel Adams such as Brett Weston, Cole Weston, Philip Hyde, Pirkle Jones, Al Weber, Bob Kolbrener and Brett Weston’s daughter Cara Weston, who knew Ansel Adams growing up. Finally, contemporary photographers in the show who were influenced by Ansel Adams include Robert Weingarten, Julieanne Kost, Rex Naden, Robert Glenn Ketchum, Peter Essick, John Mariana, Jay Dusard, Tim Barnwell and others. The exhibition contains two to four photographs by each photographer.

The three photographs in the show by Philip Hyde are “Aspens, San Miguel River, Rocky Mountains, Colorado,” “Great Overhang, Moqui Canyon, Glen Canyon, Utah” and “Marble Gorge, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona,” all by courtesy of Lumiere Gallery. Philip Hyde made “Great Overhang, Moqui Canyon” in 1964, the year Glen Canyon Dam began to back up “Lake” Powell. “Marble Gorge, Grand Canyon” appeared in the book Navajo Wildlands in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, started by Ansel Adams, Nancy Newhall and David Brower, that popularized the coffee table photography book. This series more than any other photography books, exhibited the new look of modernism in photography and helped in the campaigns to make many of America’s national parks.

Welcome to the Booth Western Art Museum

The Booth Western Art Museum is the ideal venue for Ansel Adams: Before and After, offering plenty of space for such an overwhelmingly popular show and accompanying series of lectures. Besides the SOLD OUT Opening Reception and Lecture, on Saturday January 9, 2016, the Booth will host a Workshop and Evening Lecture with  on how Ansel Adams might have used Photoshop. On Saturday, January 23, 2016, contemporary photographers featured in the exhibition will participate in a Symposium with Scholars. Details of the four sessions of this event are below.

The Booth Western Art Museum, opened in August 2003, is the only museum of its kind in the Southeast. With its 120,000 square foot building, The Booth houses the largest permanent exhibition space for Western American art in the country. Permanent galleries include: American West Gallery, Cowboy Gallery, Face of the West, Heading West, The Modern West, Sagebrush Ranch, James and Carolyn Millar Presidential Gallery, War is Hell, and a two-story Sculpture Court. There is also a Temporary Exhibition Gallery, a Special Exhibition Gallery and the Bergman Theatre Lobby Gallery, as well as two theaters, a café, a ballroom, museum store, a reference library and one of only two glass elevators in the country with historical balance weights.

Ongoing Related Events and Activities

Exhibition Opening Reception and Lecture SOLD OUT! (Over 400 people attended.)
Saturday, November 14, 2015
Dr. Michael Adams, son of Ansel Adams

Workshop and Evening Lecture
Saturday, January 9, 2016
Ms. Julieanne Kost, Adobe Systems, Inc.

Symposium with Scholars and Photographers in the Exhibition
Saturday, January 23, 2016

Opening Session: The People Behind the Pictures
Bob Yellowlees, moderator and Meg Partridge, photography scholar and filmmaker

Second Session: Archiving Americana a Face at a Time
Seth Hopkins, moderator, photographers Jay Dusard and Tim Barnwell

Third Session: Landscape Photography and Public Policy
Seth Hopkins with photographers Bob Kolbrener, Peter Essick and Robert Glenn Ketchum

Fourth Session: Photography in the 21st Century
Bob Yellowlees with photographers Rex Naden and John Mariana

The Booth Western Art Museum
501 Museum Drive
Cartersville, Georgia  30120
770-387-1300
www.boothmuseum.org

The History of Photography Collecting 1

November 29th, 2012

The History of Photography Collecting 1

Photography Has Proven One Of The Most Profitable And Satisfying Of All Art Forms To Collect…

While Photography as an art form has matured and found substantial space in most major museums, more people make and share photographs than ever before with the proliferation of digital cameras and camera phones. Interest in collecting photography has also grown dramatically, not to mention the value of some photographs. The art of collecting photography has followed the medium in an upward climb in popularity throughout its existence. But how did photography collecting begin? Who were the first collectors? What types of photographs were the first collected? Why were daguerreotypes so popular?

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San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 12

July 26th, 2011

Minor White Meets Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Paul Strand And Other Photography Greats All In One Year

Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 11.” The title of this series of blog posts has been changed from “Photography’s Golden Era” to “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History.” The next post in the series following this will be called, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History, Part 13.”

Rock Formations Detail, Weston Beach, Point Lobos State Reserve, California, copyright 1949 by Philip Hyde. Many of Philip Hyde's early close-ups and landscape photographs showed the influence of Edward Weston. Edward Weston and Minor White may have been present when this original large format 5X7 black and white photograph was made. Widely published and exhibited with Group f.64. Planned to appear in the forthcoming book: "The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-55."

See the photograph large, “Rock Formations Detail, Weston Beach, Point Lobos.”

In January 1946, the same year he began teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, Minor White met Alfred Stieglitz and in December he met Edward Weston. Alfred Stieglitz had a profound effect on Minor White and his photography and other photographers impacted Minor White’s thinking, but the influence of Edward Weston became the greatest of all.

As a member of Beaumont Newhall and Nancy Newhall’s social circle on the East Coast, that year Minor White also met Berenice Abbott, Harry Callahan, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Todd Webb, and Brett Weston.

Then in July 1946, with the help of Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Minor White accepted a teaching position on the West Coast under Ansel Adams at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute in California. Minor White started by teaching the Summer Session as Ansel Adams’ assistant, but Ansel Adams recognized right away that Minor White had teaching talent and knowledge, besides he related to the students well. Within a few weeks, Ansel Adams left Minor White in charge and within a few months his job title changed to lead instructor. Arriving on the West Coast for the first time, Minor White moved from Princeton, New Jersey to a house owned by Ansel Adams at 129 24th Avenue in San Francisco, where Ansel Adams had his darkroom. Minor White would soon be as impacted by Edward Weston on the West Coast as he was by Alfred Stieglitz in New York City.

Parallels Between Minor White And Alfred Stieglitz

James Baker Hall wrote in his biographical essay in Minor White: Rites And Passages (Aperture Monograph):

Some of the parallels between Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White are more apparent than others. Much of White’s best work, both as a photographer and as an editor, came directly and consciously out of Stieglitz’s idea of the Equivalent, the photographic image as a metaphor, as an objective correlative for a particular feeling or state of being associated with something other than the ostensible subject. Each man in his day embodied and promulgated that controlling idea by editing journals of comparable impact, Stieglitz with Camera Work, White with Aperture. Just as Stieglitz and Edward Weston—the other principle influence on White—fairly dominated a significant portion of the photography world during the second quarter of the century, so White, along with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams and Robert Frank, dominated it during the third. Ideas play a role in the influence of Weston, Cartier-Bresson, Adams and Frank, but not nearly as important a role as they do with Stieglitz and White. Their work as teachers and editors has reached far fewer people than their photographs, and it has been less well understood, but both men’s lives testify in no uncertain way to the fact that it was every bit as important to them as their camera work.

Minor White’s Most Profound Influence, Edward Weston

In December 1946, Minor White traveled south from his living quarters in one of Ansel Adams’ houses next to Ansel Adams’ darkroom near Baker Beach in San Francisco to Carmel and Point Lobos to meet Edward Weston for the first time. Edward Weston also lived in a cottage with his darkroom in Carmel Highlands on Wildcat Hill. Peter C. Bunnell, in the biographical chronology accompanying the exhibition The Temptation of St. Anthony Is Mirrors, wrote that Minor White began “a profound attachment to the man, his ideals, and the place.” For the next few years Minor White took his students from the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, on field trips to Point Lobos where they observed Edward Weston photographing with his large format view camera. The classes would then proceed to Edward Weston’s home on Wildcat Hill where they reviewed Edward Weston prints and student’s portfolios.

In Jeff Gunderson’s essay in The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts, he wrote regarding Minor White’s meeting with Edward Weston for the first time in December 1946:

This proved to be not only a personal, creative, and photographically significant milestone in his life, but it would also be of immense importance to the future of the school’s photography program and its students. Over the next couple of years, White and his students took numerous field trips to Point Lobos, where they met with Edward Weston.

Peter C. Bunnell, in Minor White: The Eye That Shapes, wrote:

Edward Weston, who will have the most profound influence on White of any artist, develops a rapport with the younger photographer, and they meet many times before Weston’s death in 1958. Based on White’s deep admiration for Edward Weston and his work, Point Lobos will become for him a kind of quintessential photographic site, and it is in relation to his understanding of how Edward Weston gained his inspiration here that White will approach Point Lobos and other landscape sites for his own creative purposes.

Minor White And In Turn Philip Hyde, Both Mentored By Edward Weston

Philip Hyde also kept up a correspondence and regular visits to Wildcat Hill to see Edward Weston until his passing in 1958. Philip Hyde and four other California School of Fine Arts classmates, Bob Hollingsworth, Bill Heick, Al Richter and John Rogers, originally became more acquainted with Edward Weston than their other classmates by camping on his lawn in tents when the class visited Wildcat Hill on field trips. The tent campers would talk and review prints with Edward Weston into the night, but not too late as Edward Weston was an early riser. Then with Edward Weston’s blessing, they would sleep a short time, wake up very early and lie awake waiting for signs of life in the house, whereupon they would rush inside and resume their discussion of photography with Edward Weston. This practice begun in 1947 continued for Philip Hyde for a number of years before Edward Weston’s health failed. Ardis and Philip Hyde camped on Edward Weston’s lawn and arose to show Edward Weston a new batch of prints, a number of times after Philp Hyde earned his certificate of completion from photography school in 1950. Read more on interactions between Edward Weston and Philip Hyde in future blog posts. For more on interactions between Minor White and Philip Hyde see the blog post, “Minor White Letters 1.”

California School Of Fine Arts Field Trips, With Edward Weston On Point Lobos And At Edward Weston’s Home In Carmel, Boosted Class Intensity

Minor White looked forward to his visits to see Edward Weston with great enthusiasm. Jeff Gunderson wrote that Minor White sent a letter in 1948 to Beaumont and Nancy Newhall just before his July 25 return to see the master:

Minor White considered the pilgrimage to Point Lobos “the climax of every year,” so important that at one point he made the “generous proposal” to “forgo his own salary in favor of Mr. Weston.” He waxed that “on this trip the intensity rose like a thermometer held over a match flame.” He wanted to make sure that students had the opportunity “to study the working methods of artists” on the week-long trip with Weston “in his home territory.” Weston and the students roamed “over Point Lobos for an afternoon without cameras.” Only then would they photograph, while Weston would “climb around to each student and discuss what is on the ground glass.” They would sit on the rocks at Point Lobos, gathered around Edward Weston, “all trying to figure out what makes an artist tick.” After hiking and taking pictures, the students would drive to Carmel for dinner, then regroup at “Weston’s cottage to see the man and his photographs.” Weston “selected carefully, put them one at a time, on a spot-lighted easel. He talked quietly or not at all,…purred to his cats and kittens…He never belittled his work, never boasted, but let each picture speak for itself…And we looked. With the sound of the sea,…the smell of a log fire around, many of the seeds, planted during the year, sprouted.” White, as well as the California School of Fine Arts students, benefited from the trek to Carmel. White was effusive about what he learned at Point Lobos in correspondence to Edward Weston. The students were familiar with Edward Weston by the time of the field trip to Carmel. His books were in the school library, his work talked about in classes, and one student, Ruth-Marion Baruch, had written Edward Weston: The Man, The Artist, and the Photograph as her master’s thesis while a student at Ohio University…the cachet of Edward Weston’s name on the roster of instructors would increase the schools profile.

All of it arranged by Minor White and to his credit as lead instructor of Ansel Adam’s new photography program.

This series was to continue in a blog post called, “Photography’s Golden Era 13,” but the series will take the new title “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History.” The next post in the series can therefore be found under the name, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 13.”

References:

Minor White: The Eye That Shapes by Peter C. Bunnell

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

Minor White: Rites And Passages (Aperture Monograph)

Ansel Adams And Paul Strand On Self-Promotion and Exhibitions

July 7th, 2011

Split Boulder Near Lake Ediza, The Minarets, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California, 1950 by Philip Hyde. First exhibited in the original "Perceptions" exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1954 with the work of the members of Group f.64, Minor White, his students and a few other Bay Area photographers. This exhibition many consider one of the foundations that defined what became known as the West Coast tradition.

(To see the photograph full screen Click Here.)

In reading the letters between Paul Strand and Ansel Adams from the Center for Creative Photography’s publication, The Archive, it quickly becomes apparent that the times then were quite different. The first exchange of letters between the two photographers in 1933 occurred during the Great Depression, when photography was almost unheard of and even other forms of art were comparatively scarce in relation to the volumes produced today.

To compete and be heard in the market today, a photographer must not only make good photographs, but also promote tastefully. Writing well online also helps to develop a following. One of today’s photographers succeeding in all three is Guy Tal. I have mentioned him before on this blog and I mention him again, because what he writes often relates to what I am learning about the history of photography and because he recommended my blog to his readers. I like Guy Tal’s blog, not because I always agree with him, but because he has a knack for stirring up ideas, thoughts and opinions and getting people to participate. Recently he wrote a blog post called, “Small Confession,” in which he acknowledges the necessity of self-promotion but confesses that he respects photographers who do it reluctantly more than those who revel in it.

Shortly after reading this post, I started reading the letters between Paul Strand and Ansel Adams. These two pioneers, despite what it appears to us now, were also reluctant self-promoters. However, they lived in a time when people were looking for something new artistically and there wasn’t all that much being created of note. Along came people like Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others. These people offered something that had never been seen before.

Straight photography was not a stuffy, constraining, self-contradicting notion as it is seen by some today. It was a huge Wow, and also freeing and energizing to the medium. Also, these artists did not have to promote themselves as loudly to be heard, because there was much less noise then and fewer voices vying for the public’s attention. People mobbed most of the events of the straight photographers. Perhaps those who look at straight photography as out-dated and old-fashioned, will have justification for that opinion when their events are packed because they have invented something striking and new enough to draw hoards of people.

The first time Ansel Adams wrote to Paul Strand, he reminded him of their meeting and mentioned meeting with Alfred Stieglitz in New York City. Then Ansel Adams told Paul Strand that he had opened a small gallery…

My place is most decidedly not an imitation of Stieglitz’; I wrote him at great length and outlined my plans—I told him I was going to alternate my exhibits between photography and painting or graphic arts, that I was not a missionary or a promoter, and that I did not care if I made anything out of the gallery or not—I only hoped it would pay its own rent. I am trying to bring things to San Francisco that should have come many years ago.

Ansel Adams went on to ask Paul Strand if he would be interested in exhibiting his photographs at Ansel Adams’ gallery. Paul Strand wrote back…

Actually I have little interest in exhibitions—because at the basis they seem to be un-American—just a mean and meaningless affair; mean in that they exploit the artist to entertain the public free of charge—meaningless in that they seldom establish any standards.

I turned down three museums last year in just the above terms—Their impudence and complete ignorance of what they are doing is just disgusting—They think that flattery is a substitute—but they can all go to hell as far as I am concerned—for I refuse to be part of that racket—that is my general feeling about exhibitions—I can never get used to the idea that pictures are free entertainment in the U.S., elsewhere too, that the people who claim to enjoy a thing never support the individual who makes what gives them pleasure.

Paul Strand went on to explain that it was difficult to send his prints out of Mexico, where he was living at the time, for fear they might be damaged, and that he might entertain the idea if he could ever make it to San Francisco in person. Paul Strand told Ansel Adams of a show he had in Mexico under extenuating circumstances, that over 3,000 people came to see in 10 days. Not bad for someone who despised the whole idea. For more about the photography of Paul Strand see the blog posts, “Straight Photography And Abstraction,” and “Photography’s Golden Era 5.”

(This blog post was originally posted March 24, 2010.)

Monday Blog Blog: Ansel Adams In The National Parks

February 28th, 2011

Book Review: Ansel Adams In The National Parks: Photographs From America’s Wild Places

Highlights Of And About The Essays And The Photographs

 

Ansel Adams In The National Parks by Ansel Adams. Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Amazon.com price $22.72.

How to add to what other reviewers have said? Ansel Adams In The National Parks has been reviewed in a number of other venues online (see list of relevant posts below), which represents a sizable marketing and publicity outlay for Little, Brown and Company. Little Brown was kind enough to send me a review copy as a gift, thank you to Little Brown and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust as well as the Center For Creative Photography. I imagine the other reviewers received advanced review copies to aid their review efforts too.

Below is what I like and dislike about this new release. I highly applaud the book and offer some criticism too. Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs from America’s Wild Places (Amazon) is a beautiful addition to anyone’s library. The look and feel of this new volume about Ansel Adams, pleases the senses and says quality all the way, yet the book is reasonably priced at only $40.00. Considering the book displays “more than 225 photographs” and the reader discovers “many rarely seen and 50 never before published” Ansel Adams photographs. These facts alone make it worth owning. The new binding of  Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, Ansel Adams In Color and Ansel Adams In The National Parks: Photographs From America’s Wild Places are all similar in attractive design and style: block lettering on white covers with smaller photographs on front and back.

In Ansel Adams In The National Parks I was happy to find many Ansel Adams photographs I have never seen before. The far majority of his photographs of the national parks in the book are a supreme joy to discover. There are perhaps half a dozen or less that I thought were below the standards of what Ansel Adams himself would have published. Ansel Adams was very particular about which of his photographs he printed and published. He printed only about 900 images out of his 50,000 original negatives.

I liked the notes and letters between Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall and Beaumont Newhall, when they either traveled together or wrote to each other about Ansel Adams’ travels and photography on his Guggenheim to photograph the National Parks.

I also enjoyed reading darkroom black and white photographer John Sexton on printing Ansel Adams photographs in the 1970s.

It is always a treat to read Wallace Stegner. His essays are well-informed and well-argued. As good as his essays are, his fiction is even better. Why not use new essays rather than reprints of essays published in previous books about Ansel Adams? Plenty of high quality credentialed essayists would love the opportunity to write about Ansel Adams in the National Parks.

The essays in the back of Ansel Adams In The National Parks, sing, especially the last essay by William A. Turnage “Ansel Adams, Environmentalist.” William A. Turnage’s prose is lyrical as he praises and passionately gives tribute to his life-long friend and partner. The two essays by Richard B. Woodward, “Ansel Adams In The National Parks” on the travels of Ansel Adams, Nancy Newhall and Beaumont Newhall and “Ansel Adams and the Preservation of Wilderness,” each provide a well-written and fascinating short history lesson. In “Ansel Adams and the Preservation of Wilderness”  Richard B. Woodward wrote:

As our sense of what happened yesterday or decades ago is often as muddled and contentious as our plans for the future, a mechanical process that provides more or less realistic evidence of the world as it once was can be of immense practical and political value…. Architecture historians in several European countries understood this vital function of photography soon after Daguerre took credit for inventing it in 1839. In France the government had already founded the Commission des Monuments Historiques in 1837 and assigned it to compile a list of old decaying medieval and Renaissance structures—cathedrals, parks, chateaus, villages—imperiled by neglect…. In 1851, the Commission selected five photographers—Edourd-Denis Baldus, Hippolyte Bayard, Gustave Le Gray, Henri Le Secq, and O. Mestral—for an elite unite that operated under the name La Mission Heliographique. It was perhaps the first time, though by no means the last, that photographers were hired in a noble-minded effort to preserve valuable parts of the world, in this case a centuries-old heritage that France was in danger of forfeiting unless quick action was taken to save these crumbling and irreplaceable sites….

Richard B. Woodward continued with sections on how photographs helped protect Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone, and many other conservation causes all over the world. Then he wrote about Ansel Adams’ leadership in the transformation of photography and its establishment as an art form:

By organizing the exhibition Group f.64 in 1932—with Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and others—Adams became an eloquent spokesman for “straight photography” in San Francisco and far beyond….Finally no photographer except Stieglitz did more to win acceptance for photography as a fine art. In 1940, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York created a separate department of photography, the first in the world, Adams became one of its founding fathers. Without training as a scholar or curator, he was nonetheless instrumental in the rediscovery of Watkins, Jackson, and O’Sullivan. By extolling their achievements to Beaumont Newhall and others in the museum community, he helped to construct a nascent art historical continuum for landscape photography. His own international prominence as an artist toward the end of his life altered the material conditions for those choosing to take the medium in that direction. In the 1970s, prints by Adams became one of the pillars of an emerging market for photographs as an art collectible, for sale in galleries and auction houses. The select but not inconsiderable number of photographers lucky enough to earn a living today from sales of their prints have Adams to thank for proving this could be done. Despite an altered context and a newfound respect for photographers within the realm of contemporary art, his pictures remain basic to the photography market and show no sign of diminishing in prevalence twenty-five years after his death.

Related Posts:

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Ansel Adams Gallery

“Black And White Prints, Collectors And Philip Hyde” Fine Art Photography Collector’s Resource

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” National Parks Traveler

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Travel Blissful

“Review: Ansel Adams In The National Parks” JMG Galleries

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Photonaturalist

Photography’s Golden Era 10

February 22nd, 2011

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:

CALIFORNIA SCHOOL OF FINE ARTS

800 CHESTNUT STREET

SAN FRANCISCO  11, CAL.

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:

ADDRESS:

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.”

Photography’s Golden Era 9

November 11th, 2010

Ansel Adams And The First Days Of Minor White At The California School Of Fine Arts In The Summer Session

Have you ever been in love?
Only then can you photograph.
–Alfred Stieglitz
(Said to Minor White when he first visited Alfred Stieglitz at Gallery 291 in New York.)

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 8“)

Weathered White Bark Pine, Matterhorn Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, California, 1950 by Philip hyde. Made the summer after Philip Hyde earned his certificate from the California School of Fine Arts now the San Francisco Art Institute.

(See the photograph full screen Click Here.)

Minor White wrote a letter to Alfred Stieglitz on July 7, 1946 about his first few days in class with Ansel Adams in Summer Session at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. “My first class the other night was a delicious experience,” Minor White said. Philip Hyde was also in class for the first time with Ansel Adams that same summer.

“It was interesting to watch and listen to the questions of the ex-servicemen,” Minor White wrote to Alfred Stieglitz. Minor White right away in class began to address students’ questions about Alfred Stieglitz and his methods. “I am pretty darned happy to be able to give them first-hand knowledge of your kind of photography,” he wrote.

Ansel Adams Quickly Approves Minor White’s Teaching

“Within the first week, Minor White was busy teaching Alfred Stieglitz’ ‘equivalents’ as well as the Zone System,” wrote Jeff Gunderson in his essay in The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the California School of Fine Arts. Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, who had originally recommended Minor White for the teaching job received a letter from Ansel Adams that said “Minor is a perfectly swell egg.” “By the third Thursday in the six-week course, Adams took a long weekend in Yosemite,” Jeff Gunderson noted. Ansel Adams “obviously felt comfortable enough to leave the class in White’s hands for a few days after knowing him for less than a week.”

Philip Hyde in a 2004 interview said, “I remember at first I said, ‘Who is this Minor White? He is an interloper. I am interested in what Ansel has to say and do.’ I got over that when I realized that Minor had a lot of things to say too and would be very helpful and interesting.” For more on how Minor White and Philip Hyde influenced each other see the blog post, “Minor White Letters 1.”

Ansel Adams And Minor White Disagree Agreeably

“Minor was a very different person and teacher from me,” Ansel Adams said in his Autobiography. Ansel Adams said that Minor White’s teaching “involved intense ‘verbalization,’ – the talking out of creative intentions, concepts, and directions.”

Minor required maximum quality and conviction of a photographer’s images, all implying superior craft. However, it was the inner message of the photograph that most concerned him; he always wanted to know the thoughts, feelings, and reactions of the artist to his subject and his image. Many were the vigorous yet friendly arguments we endured on this subject over the ensuing years. I remain convinced that the medium must explain itself in its own terms. I agreed with Edward Weston’s frequently spoken Louis Armstrong quote, “Man, if you has to ask, ‘What is it?’ you ain’t never goin’ to know.”… For the viewer, the meaning of the print is his meaning. If I try to impose mine by intruding descriptive titles, I insult the viewer, the print, and myself. I hope to enhance, not destroy, that delicate imaginative quality that should be expected from any form of art…. In retrospect, I feel that Minor was just the right foil for the slightly Calvinistic philosophy of the Group f64 school that my friends and I professed. We stressed the basic craft as it has seldom been accented before or since. Minor taught a high order of craft as well as the introspective attitudes of personal psychology and, later, such Oriental philosophies as Zen. In a sense he added another dimension to the art of photography: perhaps controversial, but convincingly creative.

Philip Hyde Explains Some Ways That Ansel Adams and Minor White Differed

Philip Hyde observed Ansel Adams and Minor White together in the same class from Minor White’s first day at CSFA. Philip Hyde said that Ansel Adams taught much of what he wrote in his books in his Basic Photography Series: The Camera (Book 1), The Negative (Book 2), The Print (Book 3), Natural Light Photography (Book 4) and Artificial Light Photography (Book 5). “Ansel and Minor both devoted time in class to talking broadly about photography,” Philip Hyde said. “They both wanted us to understand the context. They gave us reasons for making photographs too.” Philip Hyde said that seeing was also very important:

Seeing is a process that involves much more than just looking at something. It involves analyzing what you are looking at and thinking about what you are going to do and why you are doing it. When you look at something casually, you are not really seeing it. Meaning is all part of it, but looking hard and letting your eyes go over the subject to see what its nature is and what you want to do with that, how you want to show it. That was part of what Ansel and Minor taught us. We looked at photographs, talked about them and were absorbed in photography. Whatever came across the desk we would look at and analyze.

Minor applied spirituality to his work much more than I was interested in at first anyway. I have always shied away from the word spiritual because it means so many different things to so many different people. I like to find other ways of expressing the idea. Minor and Ansel’s teaching styles were different because Minor was a much more outgoing and outspoken person. He was always surrounded by people and interested in a lot of people. By contrast I don’t think of Ansel as being like that, although Ansel was certainly outgoing and friendly, but he was more formal and Minor was more open. Form in photography was subtle to Ansel. It was not as prominent as with Minor. Minor went to considerable length to emphasize form, whereas Ansel was more interested in conveying his experience through photographs. Minor would see form in things that other people wouldn’t see. Ansel is portrayed as very social with parties at his house, the piano and heads of state visiting, but in his photographs Minor was more outward and social.

Continued in the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 10.”

Straight Photography And Abstraction

November 1st, 2010

Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Philip Hyde, Straight Photography, Documentary and Abstraction

Reflections, San Juan River, Utah by Philip Hyde. This medium format 6X7 photograph exhibits aspects of abstract photography but is not entirely abstract. The shoreline sandbars, grasses and rocks help clarify what is depicted, while the cliff face is only abstract in that it is upside-down. It can be readily identified as a reflection. Philip Hyde on numerous occasions photographed up-side-down reflections, in some cases without any visual orientation of nearby right-side-up objects. He was the first landscape photographer to photograph an upside-down reflection without any nearby clues.

Some contemporary photographers believe that straight photography is documentary and limited to showing “reality” exactly as it might be seen on an ordinary day as you or I walk by it. A few photographers even try to “brand” themselves natural or straight photographers by sticking to realism and realistic portrayals of their subject. See photographer Guy Tal’s rant against this tendency, “No Lesser An Art.” The realism-only interpretation of straight photography is narrow and defeats the original purpose as envisioned by straight photography’s pioneers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston.

The objective of the photography of Paul Strand for example was not to appear “real” or to depict “reality.” Conversely, Paul Strand’s photography, without any manipulation, showed ordinary objects in a way that caused them to transcend reality.

The website, Ted’s Photographics, describes the work of Paul Strand:

Paul Strand fused together the two seemingly contradictory approaches of documentary and abstraction. For years he only produced contact prints, his pictures were pure, direct and devoid of trickery. His work represented the final break with the traditional concepts of photographic subject matter.

Paul Strand was both the “Father of Abstract Photography” and the “Father of Straight Photography.” Recently photographer Paul Grecian wrote a thought-provoking blog post, “Abstract? It’s All Abstract…” He said that all photographs are abstract because they are different than the objects they depict. While this may be true, a comment by Marty Golin argued that the reverse is also true, that photography is all “reality.” An interesting discussion developed.

Pool In Scorpion Gulch, Escalante Wilderness, now the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, 1970 by Philip Hyde. First published in "Slickrock: The Canyon Country of Southeast Utah" by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde. Scott Nichols of Scott Nichols Gallery in San Francisco has been a good advisor from time to time, helping me select images of Dad's to make into archival digital prints. He voted against this one. Paraphrasing, he said for an abstraction it was not abstract enough. He said that collectors wouldn't get it and wouldn't buy it. What do you think? I don't necessarily disagree with his conclusions, but this photograph is one of my own personal favorites, even if it won't sell. Fans of "Slickrock" probably like it. I did not respond at the time but I might have said something about Dad doing with this photograph partly what Paul Strand did. This is an example of the cross-over between documentary and abstract photography. Whether people 'get it' or not, it is a documentary recording of what was there, with a touch of abstraction.

Today some photography intentionally, some unintentionally, is going toward Pictorialism, often taking on aspects of the worst of that genre, sometimes exhibiting the best it offered. In some instances creative expression beyond and after the point of capture can be quite freeing. Extraordinary new types of work are developing. Straight photography has held back some photographers, they feel. With the advent of Photoshop and image alteration, combination, stitching, shifts in focus, and many other special effects or manipulations of color, the creative juices are flowing again. To read more on advanced Photoshop techniques see the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog: Photoshop For Pros.” On the other hand, some photographers today take subject matter that could potentially be transcendent and render it ordinary or even cliché through photographer-imposed affectations and stylization.

Alfred Stieglitz devoted the last issue ever published of his magazine Camera Work to Paul Strand. In Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz described what constitutes an important contribution to photography:

In the history of photography there are but few photographers who, from the point of view of expression, have really done work of any importance. And by importance we mean work that has some relatively lasting quality, that element which gives all art its real significance….Paul Strand has added something to what has gone before. The work is brutally direct. Devoid of all flim-flam; devoid of trickery and of any “ism”; devoid of any attempt to mystify an ignorant public, including the photographers themselves.

In Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends 1839-1960, Helmut Gernsheim wrote:

Paul Strand brought a new vision to photography, discovering in the most ordinary objects significant forms full of aesthetic appeal. Nearly all of his pictures broke new ground both in subject matter and in its presentation…. “Abstract Pattern Made by Bowls” and other experiments in abstraction were the result of Strand’s seeing at “Gallery 291” the work of Picasso, Braque, Brancusi and others. [Modernist Abstract Impressionists.]

Paul Strand himself explained this process:

I was trying to apply their then strange abstract principles to photography in order to understand them. Once understanding what the aesthetic elements of a picture were, I tried to bring this knowledge to objective reality in the “White Fence”, the “Viaduct” and other New York photographs…. Subject matter all around me seemed inexhaustible….Yet what makes these photographs is their objectivity. This objectivity is of the very essence of photography, its contribution and at the same time its limitation. The photographer’s problem is to see clearly the limitations and at the same time the potential qualities of his medium, for it is precisely here that honesty no less than intensity of vision is the pre-requisite of a living expression. The fullest realization of this is accomplished without tricks of process or manipulation, through the use of straight photographic methods.

Alders Reflected, Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur Coast, California, 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90. This photograph was made in honor of a well-known vintage black and white photograph by Philip Hyde made on the far Northern California Coast in the Redwoods also called "Alders Reflected." Philip Hyde's "Alders Reflected" does not show any trees or other objects right-side-up, but frames only the up-side-down reflections of alders with a slight wind movement of the water that causes the reflections to break up into diamond-shaped bits of water surface in places. Philip Hyde's "Alders Reflected" has not yet come into the digital era and may not. We may make modern darkroom silver prints of it instead.

Abstraction, more than a technique is the result of selecting a composition that removes the objects in the frame from their context as found in “reality” and changes their nature in the photograph. Another one of the great abstract photographers was Brett Weston. Read more about Brett Weston’s influence in the blog post, “The Hidden Brett Weston.” Webster’s Third International Dictionary Unabridged defines abstract as, “Expressing a property, quality, attribute, or relation viewed apart from the other characteristics inherent in or constituting an object; of a fine art: presenting or possessing schematic or generalized form frequently suggested by and having obscure resemblance to natural appearances through an ordering of pictorial or sculptural elements.” Thus, photographing a field of corn and defocusing the image does not make the photograph abstract, it merely makes it fuzzy. Photographing a corn leaf in such a way that it takes on separate characteristics from those typically associated with corn, is abstract photography.

Do you agree or disagree? What do you feel makes a photograph abstract? Are you drawn more to straight photography, Pictorialism or something in-between?

Photography’s Golden Era 5

June 7th, 2010

(Continued from the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 4.”)

Cover of Book on Paul Strand by Mark Haworth-Booth, Aperature, 2009.

The earliest beginnings of straight photography go back to 1915 when politics, the arts and sciences were in a state of revolution. Cubism, Freudian psychoanalysis, Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the new rhythms of Jazz swept the country. “Everything was changing, but in photography the Pictorialists were still evoking foggy, romantic images of the past,” said American Photography: A Century of Images by PBS Home Video.

“One photographic artist would lead the medium into the modern age,” American Photography said. “His name was Paul Strand.” Aperture recently published a new book on Paul Strand in their Masters of Photography Series called Paul Strand by Mark Haworth-Booth.

Before Paul Strand’s work became known and for some time afterward, Pictorialists smeared Vaseline on their lenses to soften their images. They scratched their negatives to add texture. “They even painted chemicals on their prints to simulate brush strokes. The purpose was to make photography a hand-made process like other arts.” Pictorialist photographs looked like drawings or paintings with Chiaroscuro—light and dark contrasted effects, sketchiness and dreamy haziness.

Paul Strand, as part of the school of ideas and art that Alfred Stieglitz advanced, had his work published in Alfred Stieglitz’ magazine Camera Work and exhibited in Alfred Stieglitz’ Gallery 291. Paul Strand had been working for a few years on his own in 1915 when he brought his new work to Alfred Stieglitz to review. Alfred Stieglitz looked at the portfolio and said, “Young man, this is it. You have created a new and modern art.” Paul Strand used the camera to capture shapes and forms simply, directly and in sharp focus. Rather than depending on the skill of manipulation of the photograph after it left the camera, artistic quality depended on the eye of the photographer. Paul Strand’s images further revolutionized photography through the introduction of the abstract forms that he had observed in modernist paintings at Gallery 291. Paul Strand’s enthusiasm for sharp-focused realism was shared by a new generation of photographers: Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans and others.

Nonetheless, by the early 1930s, Pictorialist photographs employing soft-focus, manipulated prints and painterly visions engaged their poetic moods and romantic scenes in a lively exchange among juried camera club competitions. “In the West, large numbers of Pictorialist photographers continued to take prizes at Bay Area salons…” wrote Therese Thau Heyman in her essay “Perspective On Seeing Straight” in the book Seeing Straight: The F.64 Revolution in Photography. “Pictorialist thinking and theory was at its most articulate in the mid-1020s. William Mortensen, a leading and vocal Pictorialist, later explained, ‘The business of a work of art is to make an effect, not to report a fact.’ Creating effects was pictorialism’s highest calling.” Mortensen claimed that without selection and artistry, “the camera has no more artistic potentiality than a gas-meter.”

Sides were drawn up. One unnamed speaker in a debate said of Edward Weston’s work that he had “dared more than the legion of brittle sophisticates and polished romanticists ever dreamed.” Edward Weston turned away from pictorialist methods eight or nine years before a Bay Area group of straight photographers formed Group f.64. In 1930 Edward Weston commented in his Daybooks of Edward Weston, “I wrote an article, published this July with examples of my work in ‘Camera Craft,’ a photo magazine which offers its readers just what they want…. I tempered my words, fearing the editor might not stand up under full blast. But seeing some unusually awful reproductions in the same issue by one Boris, with a laudatory article by the editor, I spent an hour writing him my mind. These cheap abortions which need no description other than their titles, ‘Pray,’ ‘Greek Slave,’ ‘Orphans,’ ‘Unlucky Day,’ have nothing to do with Art, nor Life, nor Photography. So I not very gently explained. But why did I waste my time? I know the editor’s policy, his outlook from his writings and magazine in general: backing my work and opinions, his publication would fail. I am in the mood to stir things up.”

Meeting Paul Strand in Taos changed Ansel Adams’ life direction as he turned away from his development as a concern pianist, to full-time pursuit of photography as a profession. When he returned to San Francisco, Ansel Adams gave up his textured photographic papers and began using the same smooth papers used by Paul Strand and Edward Weston. This revealed more detail in his prints and allowed him to “achieve a greater feeling of light and range of tones….” For more about the photography of Paul Strand see the blog post, “Straight Photography And Abstraction.”

“My work might interest you at this time,” Ansel Adams wrote to Paul Strand. “Stieglitz, with whom I had many fine hours in New York this spring, was very helpful and encouraging.” Ansel Adams invited Paul Strand to exhibit his work in San Francisco in a modest gallery that Ansel Adams had opened, but Paul Strand turned the aspiring photographer down objecting to exhibitions in general. For more on this story and Paul Strand see the blog post, “Ansel Adams and Paul Strand on Self-Promotion and Exhibitions.” Undaunted Ansel Adams wrote back to tell the black and white photography master that he understood. However he felt that some contribution, however small, could be made to photography by putting on the right kind of exhibitions. Some of the earliest exhibitions at the Ansel Adams Gallery in San Francisco were of the work of a new group of photographers dedicated to straight photography called Group f.64.

“I certainly wish I could see what you are doing in Mexico,” Ansel Adams wrote in his second letter to Paul Strand. “I have always had things happen to me—psychologically, even physically—when I have seen your things. I believe you have made the one perfect and complete definition of photography. Stieglitz is to me the great catalyst; he has taken rare mental and emotional material and turned it into creative channels…. I have often wondered what Stieglitz would have been had he concentrated entirely on his own work.

When Ansel Adams described his response to Paul Strand’s negatives to the photographers who in their next meeting became Group f.64, he found they were all in accord with pursuing what they at first called “pure photography” and later called straight photography as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand called it. They did not meet often as a group, but provided  moral support for each other. At the second meeting the young photographer Preston Holder suggested they call themselves ‘US 256’, the smallest aperture or lens opening setting that allowed for the greatest sharpness and depth. Because the new aperture system called this smallest setting f.64, Ansel Adams wrote down f.64 and all agreed.

Group f.64 composed a manifesto that defined the group’s purpose and philosophy. It said the name “signifies to a large extent the qualities of clearness and definition of the photographic image…Group f.64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the “Pictorialist,” on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts. The members of Group f.64 believe that photography, as an art from, must develop along lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, and must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.” The manifesto also committed the group to “present in frequent shows what it considers the best contemporary photography of the West.”

One of Group f.64’s early supporters was Lloyd Rollins, director of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. Lloyd Rollins attended a gathering of the group at Willard Van Dyke’s home, viewed their photographs and offered them their first exhibition. This was Ansel Adams’ third major museum show and a break for the other group members as well. The group handed out copies of their manifesto at the show. The public and critical response was vigorous and often negative. Though many letters criticized Rollins for supporting a medium “that was not art,” the museum board continued to support the young pioneers.

The Group f.64 exhibitions drew both praise and criticism in the respected journal Camera Craft. A supporter of Pictorialism, reviewer Sigismund Blumann, in the May 1933 issue wrote,”The name of the organization was intriguing. The show was recommended to us as something new, not as individual work might go, but as a concerted effort specifically aimed at exploiting the trend. We went with a determined and preconceived intention of being amused and, if need be, adversely critical. We came away with several ideals badly bent and not a few opinions wholly destroyed…. The group is creating a place for photographic freedom. You will enjoy these prints. You will be impressed, astounded.” Articles by Los Angeles photographer William Mortensen in the same magazine were not so complimentary.

As part of the debate and to counter some of William Mortensen’s assertions, Ansel Adams wrote impassioned responses. These two famous photographers and proponents of their respective styles, argued so intensely in print that it expanded readership and multiplied interest in the controversy and photography in general, ultimately resulting in more supporters of the cause of straight photography. Ansel Adams described William Mortensen’s work: “His photographs were of models suggesting classic and Renaissance characters in historical and allegorical situations while in various stages of nakedness and period costume. They were just plain awful.” William Mortensen and Ansel Adams engaged in one of the fiercest debates in art history.

(The blog post to come, “Photography’s Golden Era 6” will begin to cover Ansel Adam’s Zone System and the founding of the photography department at the California School of Fine Arts that Philip Hyde attended starting in 1946.)