Yesterday I was in London to visit the Ansel Adams exhibition in the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
Many of the images were of rivers and waves, which is the link that explained this choice of venue. The exhibition was well hung, but the lighting was not always ideal. I can understand the low level lighting as these were original prints made by Ansel Adams himself. What could have been improved was the angle at which they were lit. Some prints were show with thick mounts and because the light came from above the edge of the mount cast a shadow on the image in a few cases. However, it did not distract too much from the great quality of what was on show.
One of the things that struck me very quickly was how deliberately composed all the images were. It is so different from most images we see nowadays. I suppose there are several factors, apart from his genius as a photographer, that contribute to this characteristic. The way he worked was to strongly pre-visualise each image before making it. He would think a lot about what he wanted to show where in the frame, not many ‘snapshots’ in his portfolio! The equipment he had at his disposal was heavy and took time to set up. Once he had decided how the image should look, Ansel only made one exposure (well, two really, but the second one was totally identical and was only made as a back-up.) In an interview, shown at the exhibition, he said “bracketing is for people who did not know what they are doing.” Not sure I agree with The Master on this one!
The careful and deliberate compositions often results in very tranquil, peaceful landscapes, not much is happening. Even the ones with water, which is in constant movement, as their subject have this almost calming effect. You can lose yourself in contemplating some of the vast vistas he became famous for.
One concept that is important to understand when appreciating the work of Ansel Adams is that of equivalence. The term was first used by Stieglitz and describes the connection between the photographer and the image. Adams himself said about it: “When I see something I react to it and state it, and that’s the equivalent of what I felt. So I give it you as a spectator, and you get it or you don’t get it it, but there’s nothing on the back of the print that tells you what you should get.”
It is a great selection of his work and I would certainly recommend a visit. I played the tourist in London a bit and can also recommend going to Greenwich on one of the fast boats that go very frequently from Embankment. While were at it I’ll also suggest The Old Brewery as a good place for lunch and a pint (they have a micro brewery and produce some interesting beers.)