Photographs not taken: The book arrived. I was interested to read how some photographers handle the missed shot. For my project “Fences” I missed a shot of a kid sitting on this fence. I thought how apt. As I was on the fence between representation and abstract photography. I did not get the shot, I had no film left. I did not take my I-phone with me, and I did not have my digital camera either. I felt bummed about it, but thought about recreating it, also from then on, I always have my digital camera with me, even if I am shooting film. I keep the last two shots in the camera, I don’t shoot the roll empty, unless I have a spare, so I did learn something from the mishap. Also, I learned this module, that restating the image is okay also, that image construction is not a bad thing. I also believe that the shot will turn up again, it has happened for me before. I don’t know when, but I will be ready the second time around.
I read: Young Timothy Archibald’s story about leaving his film at home on a film shoot. His dad dropped him off, he had no money, the stores was closed. He decided to fake the shoot. He was afraid of people, but on this occasion it did not matter somehow, as he pretended to photograph. People were nice, friendly and welcoming. He learned from his missed shots: there is nothing to be afraid of.
I think it’s important to keep this in mind in every aspect of making images. Fear creeps in, in various ways. Also, an opportunity lost is an opportunity gained.
Thoughts on Ansel: For the longest time, I have put the works of Ansel Adams to bed. He was a landscape photographer, very good at what he did, but for me I needed something a little more “Creative” Lately however, I am so glad I learned the “Zone” system, and how to develop and print an image. I can expose very well and develop a fine looking negative. How valuable this information is to me. I am technically very competent both in film and digital, and I can use these forms help me express my ideas and concepts. I do not worry about the technical side anymore, and this has given me a tremendous feeling of freedom.
If I see any image in film or digital, I do to concern myself how the image was made from a technical aspect, I just look at how it was conceived creatively, so half the battle is won, I only need to do half the work. This is all thanks to Ansel. He gave me a lot in that regard. Once in a while, I will pull out ‘The Negative” or “The Print” (I have one signed by him which I treasure very much) which I got from him when I need him up in Carmel, back in 1984. I still do some technical referencing, but not very often. His knowledge has remained at my finger tips, and is used in one way or another, daily.
What attracts in the image? It has always made me wonder, why I love a certain photograph, or painting over another, what pierces my heart for that minute I spend the extra time gazing at an image.
While studying my B.F.A. at Cal Arts, I finally had the opportunity to meet Ansel Adams. I was working at Panavision part-time while a student, and a fellow camera technician mentioned that Adams was having a retrospective up in Carmel and if I would like to go?
We drove up to Carmel by the sea, to the Weston Gallery, where the retrospective was being held. This was back in 1984. It was here that I had my first opportunity to see an Ansel “MURAL” print, the biggest print he made.
The title is: ‘Clearing Winter Storm. ‘ Back then I was all into technique, who had the best to offer, and still does. No-one has ever surpassed the Zone system. And, if used correctly, can compress or expand a wide dynamic range into VIII Zones of detail, with Zone 0 and Zone X being pure black and pure White. [A small caveat, there is no ‘0’ in Roman numerals, and wonder if Ansel knew that, I guess, nothings perfect.”] I was enamored by the detail, sharpness, contrast, tonal-range, shapes, edge burn, a dust/spec free image, the list goes on. I remember standing 4 inches away from the print trying to find the smallest speck of dust or air bubble. I searched for any type of flaw. However, I could not a single imperfection. I had excellent vision back then, I could read newspaper fine print standing up, so, if there was the tiniest imperfection, I would have found it. There was none! The Mural was technical love at it’s finest, I have never seen a better hand made print since. Then, I finally had the opportunity to meet Ansel, sit in his ZONE V Cadillac Sedan De-ville and have a book signed. It was a great experience, a moment I will always treasure. As a young film/photography student back then, there was no finer moment. I had met the Maestro. One always leaves with something when these events occur, even if it’s being able to re-count the experience decades later, with fond memories. When I look at prints to-day, I still use the same technique. I go up close and scrutinize the print quality in fine detail (technique+form) then I step back to take in the image as a whole (content)
This stepping back and looking at the whole ‘field,’ is what Roland Barthes calls the Stadium, one of two attributes, that calls one’s attention to the photograph. The other being the punctum.
I like the way he named these two attributes of an image, which ranges in looking from the general to the specific, the field to the spot, the square to the point. That lightning bolt, or cupids arrow, that shoots out at you from the image that paralyses you for that moment, as if venomed from a snake bite. I like the way he talks about the punctum striking outwards.
In Adam’s ‘Clearing Winter Storm’ I was sucked in, pulled inwards, drawn into the bright white light of the clouds in the valley, suspended between Half Dome and Bride Veil Falls. I have been up to that vantage point and never seen it look like it does in that Adam’s print. He did some alchemy in the darkroom up there in the Carmel Highlands.
So, I tried an experiment. I looked at the print as if it were a 3-D image, and started to concentrate, and allow my eyes to draw slowly for the foreground to the background, rolling the focus slowly backwards. The foreground started to blur and the background began to thrust forward as if the clouds started bellowing towards me. The whole area between Half-Dome and Bride Veil stands out in the most amazing way. The angles of the rock faces get exaggerated, the snow covered peaks become more visible, the cloud climbs upward into the sky like a whisp of smoke, and finally as the eyes begin to focus and the image becomes clear, I am drawn forward to the blackness of the two pine trees in the foreground.
I will still have to do some more study of the punctum, I am just at the beginning of physically understanding it, however intuitively and emotionally, it is very clear. For me Barthes has given me a way to understand how to feel an image as opposed to just seeing an image.
Barthes, R. (1980). Camera Lucida. Hill and Wang. New York.
Stacey, W. (2018). Photographs Not Taken. Daylight Community Arts Foundation, Arron, China.