Sunday, February 11, 2007


I just returned from the Fitchburg Art Museum’s opening of a group of Ansel Adam’s “snapshots” made during a trip aboard a sailing yacht with friend, David McAlpin. They sailed for 10 days the inter-coastal waterway from Norfork to Savanna. It was an eastern vacation, and both Adams and McAlpin had Super Ikonta BX cameras – a folding rangefinder camera that uses 120 sized film. It so very rewarding to see the eye of Adams still seeing strongly as he made these casual vacation images.

The prints were 5.5 inches square and print beautifully. There are vintage 1940's prints made to share with McAlpin, and in fact, some of the prints in the exhibition are attributed to him. I could not help but marvel at the delicious, creamy, rich tonalities just not possible with today materials. The slightly warm coloration might lead a viewer to think they have “yellowed with age” but I would strongly disagree with that assessment. I remember printing on Kodak Medalist paper early in my career and it made prints reminiscent of these prints; slightly warm with beautiful deep blacks, separated mid-tones and glowing, rounded, creamy, highlights. While the type of film is not identified, it is obvious in the rendering of tonalities, that it was rich in old-fashioned, good ol’ days silver.. Probably the same is true of the paper.

But back to the images themselves, they are strong in lines, forms and shapes contrasted against rich but detailed backgrounds. You can’t miss Adams’ eye in the way he uses the strong lines of dock boards and lumber piles to bring the eye to the doorway of a medium toned building and a hovering brilliant white sign above. It’s the white sign that you see first in this truly exquisite print, and then the planks and boards direct your eye to the person who is rendered in the same deep rich tones of the lumber and is sitting squarely in the doorway. I must have looked at that print four times, and with each viewing another significant detail came forward.

And then there was the print of their boat’s wake reflecting the a thin line of morning? evening? clouds. Wonderfully dark waters with silvery highlights occupy 3/4's of the frame, and the other quarter is a dark distant tree line with sky above. I found it difficult to pull myself away from this print. It was so fluid it was mesmerizing.

There was also another image of water and a tree line where the wedge of trees and their dark reflections occupy about ½ of the image. There is gentle wake ripples in the bottom lower left of the image, and clear medium toned sky above the trees. In the middle of the tree line is a very large tree that towers almost twice as tall as the others in the line, and it is lighter in tone. The smaller trees are some sort of pine while the big tree is a deciduous variety that is spreading its canopy of bare winter limbs over the others. In itself, it strongly exhibits the “Adams’ Eye” in its rich tonalities and control of the frame.

But curator, Stephen Jereckie, has placed beside it an image of Adams’ back while standing on the bow of the boat with an arm around the lines of the sails and the camera raised to his face. We see the tree line image described above in the background. How cool is that?

I could just about describe detail of every image in this exhibition, and came away with tremendously energized. Here was a photographer who in 1940 was at the top of his game making “snapshots” with a hand-held camera than in many instances would look just fine along side of his better known images. Of course, I didn’t see the out-takes, but what I did see was an artist whose eye is so strong that he makes art even while casually shooting a record of his vacation. “Adams in the East: Cruising the Inland Waterway.” is up until June 3.

Also showing is a traveling exhibition of Frank Gohlke’s “Essay of the Sudbury River.” These are very large (3x4-feet and larger) color C-prints from 5x7 color negs that he shot in the early 90's. This was my third or fourth viewing of these images and I must admit that some of my initial excitement for them has wained. But there are a couple that stil hold my interest: the fish nest, the wheel chair underwater, and the view from just under the bridge in Hopkinton. These are not the official titles for these images, but visual keys I have assigned them for my use. These prints are appealing because they are presented in a natural pallet of colors, and their size and detail invite the viewer to move close to them. It’s almost as if you are standing with in frame of the image. I can’t show you these images because there exist no printed version of them except for the a catalog of the Gohlke images.

The Fitchburg Art Museum is located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, about 20-25 minutes north of Worcester.


Billie said...

Oh, I'd love to see Adams snapshots. And you know what else I'd like to see, I'd like to see a show of portraits that Weston did to make a living. Not just a few he did of friends but from his "day job." Just curious. I wonder how many of them still are around.

pitchertaker said...

Probably most of them are glued (literally) into some of photo album's rotting paper, and the people who have them haven't a clue to what they have. Stephen tells the story of guy on the Vineyard that has a framed original signed Weston stuffed away in the closes where he keeps the stuff from his mother's estate. When told what he had, he said, "Who? What? So what!" That print is probably worth $100K.

Steve Williams said...

We have lost the sensibilty of snapshots that existed decades ago. The ease and economy of photography in the 1970s until now generated a flood of pictures that seem to be meaningless compared to the snapshots I see in my grandparents albums. Those images despite their size were treated respectfully in shooting and presentation.

It is a personal goal to become a snapshot shooter in classical form....

Great post Frank.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

pitchertaker said...

In the 20's, 30's, 40's and probably into the 50's, making photograph, snapshots if you prefer, were considered a luxury. At least in my family. It wasn't cheap to own a camera, and take you exposed film to the local drug store, or to the local portrait studtio for processing. Almost always they were contact prints with fancy borders. Seems to me that the quality of image began with the advent of the inexpensive camera and processing. It is both admiral and desirable to assign yourself a goal of making images that our grand parents would have made.

bridget kane said...

Frankers. WTF. People can't comment on your blog if you don't tell them about it!!!

Anyway, I have been meaning to email you cause I miss your face around school!

This is a great post. I will try to head up there and see it. I loved the Warhol exhibit there a few years ago, and it would be fun to see Ansel Adams' snappers.

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