Ansel Adams, and my love for black & white photography

As someone who loves colour and has a hard time resisting anything that involves a rainbow of bright, rich colours, I feel like I should dislike black and white photography. But, I’ve always been drawn to and fascinated by it and other monochromatic arts. That said, I feel like it’s really easy to do a bad job of it, so I’ve always been hesitant to try it myself. Some b&w photography is incredible and makes me want to drink in every pixel of the picture, but some of it just feels like a regular, boring photograph that was made b&w in hopes of making it more interesting. I often feel like my attempts fall into the latter to group, probably because a lot of them were colour converted to b&w (though, some were done on b&w film). But, I’d really like explore it more.

Thinking about b&w photography reminded me of my old love for Ansel Adams. I can’t remember when I first discovered his work (I think it was a random discovery at Mount Allison University, but dad might have introduced me to his work), but I do remember that Mount Allison University Library had an amazing (to me) photography section in one of the back corners of the basement level and there were a couple of books with Adams’ work. I think I loved his work from the start. There was something about the mix of rustic looking pictures and pictures with the most incredibly crisp lines that made me want to see more and more and more.

A couple weeks ago, I discovered an Adams book in Audrey’s Bookstore. I almost bought right then and there, as I had a gift certificate burning a hole in my wallet, but I resisted, thinking that my newly rekindled love for his work would wax and wane like so many other flirtations. But, the other week, I broke down and bought the book. And, I don’t regret it at all. That lunch I spent almost an hour barely able to move from picture to picture because I just wanted to devour every square inch. When I finished going through the book, I promptly started from the beginning again, this time reading all the text, as well. I’m not even a quarter of the way through the book, and already I’ve got half a dozen images book marked because they inspired me with ideas for stitched or painted art.

The book, in case you’re wondering, is Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs. It includes work from when he was just a teenager. It’s quite wonderful being able to see works from the start and not just see all the best of the best. Some of the pictures are what I would call “not very good” – though I recognize the beauty of the scenery and the value of the work, they simply aren’t to my taste.

One of the nice things about seeing such a large variety of his work is being able to see a large variety of b&w photography. I was surprised when I looked at one of his earlier pictures and found myself trying to figure out the colours – there was something about the way the picture was taken that made me more interested in what it would look like in colour. And, that made me realize that I normally don’t care. So, yes, I love colour, but with some b&w photography, I’m too interested in the lines and textures to even care about colour. It’s an odd thing, when I think about it, but it doesn’t seem odd in the slightest when I’m admiring good photographs.

I think that I need to pull out one of my film cameras and some of my b&w film. As spring approaches, I’m getting the itch to spend more and more time outside with a camera, so why not try some b&w photography?!

You can see some of his incredible work on the Ansel Adams Gallery website.

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