’Round Town

Black and White, Part 2

Wed, 02/28/2024 - 7:15am

    A very long time ago a friend gave me a book with photos and text by Ansel Adams, one of the most recognized and accomplished photographers of the 20th century. It was a random gesture offered partially as a bit of a joke at the time since I had no specific interest in photography. But the book made a big impression and sort of jumpstarted my curiosity about and experimentation with black and white film, its processing and printing. Mr. Adams’ work helped me see things in a different way which encouraged an adventure never imagined.

    Photography was not Adams’ first choice. Initially he taught himself to play the piano and read music. In 1920 he decided on music as a profession and trained as a concert pianist. But during trips to Yosemite Valley with his parents he made his first photographs with a Brownie box camera. Following years, with returns to Yosemite, his interest in photography overtook his music study which led to work with and for the Sierra Club and eventual publication of images made during trips to the High Sierra.

    Adams’ prints are stunningly beautiful. Eventually, during his career, he photographed here in Maine at Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Point, but many of his most memorable images were made in the Southwest and Yosemite. These photographs were to become among his most notable, seen around the world in galleries and publications.

    When I photographed artwork for Lonny and Judy Sisson in Albuquerque and Sante Fe, New Mexico, I was able, through generous car sharing of the Sissons, to travel around the Southwest a bit. One of my first missions was to see the place where Adams had made the famous photograph “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.” When I stopped at a small convenience store in Hernandez to ask directions, the store keeper, before I could say a word, pointed and said “It’s just down the road.” When I traveled just down the road to see “the spot,” there was not even a remote resemblance to Adams’ composition. 

    Adams once said, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer's score, and the print the performance.” Ah, the darkroom! For me, that is where the magic happens. 

    Recently I visited an old friend for a darkroom “fix.” Jim Kipfer is an engineer, but not unlike Mr. Adams, his true love is photography and his knowledge of the darkroom process leaves little to the imagination. Jim has photographed since high school growing up in Lockport, New York, near Buffalo. He has photographed with all variety of cameras but of primary interest is his large format, tripod mounted, under the black cloth equipment. He is sometimes seen on street corners with his giant camera, often surrounded by curious onlookers. But the real magic takes place in the darkroom where there are many rabbits pulled from a variety of hats. The visual transformation from film to print still fascinates me and never ceases to inspire. Jim is a master printer with a remarkable and expansive knowledge of process. As with music, the printing process can vary with each performance, subtly and dramatically, the end result notably differing in complexity and impact. Mr. Kipfer has a finely tuned grasp of the score which makes the performance all the more memorable. It is an art.