In Re Ansel Adams

My tutor, recommended that I view some photography exhibits and analyse some of the work. I thought I would study some fine art and found Harris Library in Preston has a permanent fine art gallery most notable for the giant head that stares at you as you walk in. Before I set off I researched on the internet how to write a photography critique as my tutor said I needed to elaborate more. She suggested to critique my photographs more and to learn how to do this the best way would be to study others photographs and analyse the choices they had made.
The first source I found was e-how. I quickly saw that this was what I was looking for and jotted down the main points that I should take into consideration. I don’t know that much about fine art so I looked at some examples on the internet. Some were rather strange but others seemed to convey powerful emotions and feelings.

The art gallery wasn’t open when we arrived so I bought Michael Freemans book, The Photographers Eye. I realise with foresight I should have purchased this book at the beginning of the course as I have only had it one day and the advice in it has been invaluable.

The art gallery was finally open and I saw that most of the art was sculpture and paintings. With traditional medias such as painting or drawing the artist is completely in control of composition, he or she can place elements wherever they want to best influence the painting and convey the message. With photography however the photographer is restricted to the elements in front of her or him and the frame around the photo. So I wandered further into the gallery and finally found what I wanted.

I decided to analyse Terry Flaxton’s unique presentation of Ansel Adams black and white photograph of Yosemite, vividly brought to life with colours, moving elements and sounds. The photo/video started with an intense close up of moving water and gradually started zooming out so slowly that the viewer was completely immersed in this journey accompanied by the sound of the deafening roar of the water through the ear phones.

The video slowly zoomed out until you could see that the water was a waterfall sweeping down a cliff. As I watched, the video zoomed out even further and great mountains and landscapes started filling the frame and I saw that the waterfall was a tiny fractional element in a wide expansive scene. The image zoomed back until the climax when the entire Yosemite valley dominated the screen with only the tiniest glimmer of a streak of white representing the waterfall that had been such a colossal and powerful element at the beginning. The video ended with the original photo that Ansel Adams had taken in the 1930’s and the sound faded away to nothing. I was blown away with the power of this image and watched it several times before I began writing notes down.
I was extremely pleased that I had found this image as Ansel Adams was a very impressive and re-knowned American photographer and I deeply admire his work, especially since I did a study into black and white photography when I saw his work in the OCA course. He is most famous for his incredible photos of the American National Parks and the fine art I was looking at was one of his taken of Yosemite.

The museum visitor representative came over and started chatting to me about the image and fine art in general. He said that Terry Flaxton, in 2008 had stood six miles away to take this film. He had zoomed into the waterfall using the best range of camera equipment and zoom lenses available at that time. As he zoomed out he had held his breath because even the slightest fraction of movement would caused camera shake and the video would have been rendered blurred and un-viewable. It seems quite fitting that when I was watching it I felt like everything in the whole world was holding its breath and concentrated purely on this moving image. The only thing I could criticise would be that Ansel Adams photo of Yosemite is black and white and perhaps by bringing in colour it takes away the awe of the original photo. This is just a personal opinion of course and I have deep respect for such an amazing creation

The film causes the viewer to assume that the main focus of the video is the waterfall. The tight crop at the beginning causes the water to fill the entire frame denoting power and strength. Therefore when the image zooms out you see the waterfall is just a tiny part of a huge vista of enterprise. Despite this impressive landscape the eye is still focused on the waterfall, perhaps flitting across the screen at points registering the corners and collosal geographical features, but as the waterfall began as the main element, it is there in which the eye is drawn to.

A photograph is a still image of a moment frozen in time, there are no physical senses such as sound, taste, smell and touch. There is only sight and it is the photographers job to ensure these senses come through the image.
When I got home I found the video on YouTube and this time watched it with the sound muted. This way I could completely focus on the composition and overall effect of the image without the distraction of sound.

The water is given an almost silken appearance so it looks like a long exposure.
As the lens zooms out you can almost feel the water, soft and smooth due to the contrast of the ragged rocks. As the landscape comes into sight, the waterfall is kept on the right so your eye is still focused on it. You can almost hear it get quieter as the waterfall recedes into the distance. When the image is frozen and Ansel Adams original work comes fills the screen you can really appreciate the vastness of the image. Which is an interesting point. Looking at the photo that Adams took, you can still feel the huge entirety of the landscape, especially with the contrast of the shadows and light sweeping down the mountain leading your eye to the waterfall. Or maybe vice versa, with the waterfall directing the viewers vision instead. However I feel that by showing the waterfall to be the main element at first the viewer can feel the powerful contrast of size of the landscape.

This is an incredible piece of fine art that conveys the feeling and emotion of both photographers as they set sight on this landscape. The vastness is conveyed perfectly by showing how insignificant the waterfall is compared to this intense and vast landscape.
I really enjoyed this visit to the art gallery and will be sure to return when the next photography exhibit opens.

I will finish this review with something the man at the art gallery said to me.
I asked him the definition of fine art and he pondered for several moments in deep thought before saying, “You can see an amazing drawing or photograph of something everyday and while you can appreciate the technical skill that has created it you don’t feel something. But if you can look at a piece of work and feel the emotion relating to you, relating to the artist and relating to the actual piece, then that is fine art.”
My next photographer study will be on Andy Rouse whose photos of the natural world are breathtaking.


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