ev·a·nes·cent (ĕv´ə-nĕs’ənt) adjective. Vanishing or likely to vanish like vapor.
“Not just a place, it's an experience... it has to do with that time, that moment, that evanescent disappearing thing."
John Szarkowski, describing the works of Ansel Adams
I am a deep admirer of the photographic works of Ansel Adams. There are images by Ansel Adams that move me to the core of my existence when I see them. Not because they are simply beautiful images, but because of the emotion Adams has captured on film and printed on a piece of paper.
In his introduction to the Ric Burns PBS documentary on the life of Ansel Adams, the late John Szarkowski renowned photographer and curator states;
“He found some way of putting together those little fragments of the world that transformed them into a picture, in the same way that a poet uses the same dictionary that the rest of us do. All the words of the poem are in there, in fact they are arranged in alphabetical order so you can find them; and it’s just a matter of taking a few of them and putting them in the right order, and that’s all there is to it. So why is it that some lines of poetry grip us and we think, that’s right, that true, I don’t quite know what that means but whatever it means that’s true; and a good picture does something like that. The best of Ansel’s are part of our memory, part of our sense of what a picture might be made of, what it might look like and what it might ultimately be about. Which is the part we can’t explain.”
A photograph is not a mountain or a tree or a river, it's an illusion printed on paper. Yet the truly great photographs of Ansel Adams are so much more than just an illusion and Mr. Szarkowski's statement made me realize that what I was seeing and the emotion I was feeling when looking at these images is truth. The Yosemite Valley, the mountains of the Sierra Nevada or the forests of northern California are there for anyone to take a picture of. And yet when we see an Ansel Adams photograph of these places we realize we are not just looking at rocks and trees and clouds, we are seeing exactly what Adams felt at the moment he released the shutter and the overwhelming beauty found in the reality of that place. That is truth, and truth is what made Ansel Adams photographs art.
“I can’t verbalize on the internal meaning of pictures whatsoever. Some of my friends can at very mystical levels. I prefer to say that if I feel something strongly, I would make a photograph that would be the equivalent of what I saw and felt. When I’m ready to make a photograph I think I quite obviously see in my minds eye something that is not literally there in the true meaning of the word. I’m interested in expressing something which is built up from within, rather than that which is extracted from without.”
I always had an idea what Adams meant in the statement, "I’m interested in expressing something which is built up from within, rather than that which is extracted from without."; but my understanding of that statement became very clear when I read his autobiography. Towards the end of this wonderful book co written by Ansel Adams and Mary Street Alinder, Adams states "It is easy to take a photograph, but it is harder to make a masterpiece in photography than in any other art medium".
Photography deals with reality, and a photographer cannot deviate from reality and remain true to the principals of "straight photography" whereby nothing is added or taken away from what is already there. The sophistication of modern cameras have simplified the process of taking a good picture which is properly exposed, colour balanced and in focus. In addition to this, digital technology has simplified the process of altering the technical aspects of a photograph (exposure, tone, hue and colour saturation) and to alter the physical composition of an image. However, in my opinion if the composition of an image is altered in this manner, for example if a tree or a rock or a cloud is removed, added or it's position changed, the image is no longer a photograph it becomes a photo collage. I've seen some fascinating and beautiful work done in this vein, but it is not straight photography in the traditional definition. Therefore, to see "something that is not literally there" in "reality" and create a masterpiece must come from within the photographers experience, feelings and emotions. Which is exactly what Adams was referring to; "without" is there for all to see, "within" lies only in the soul of the artist, but in the click of a shutter can be revealed to all who see that image.
We don't make a photograph with a camera; we bring to the act of photography all the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the music we have heard and the people we have loved.
A good photograph is almost metaphysical, it's something we recognize in our daily experience and yet don't recognize at the same time. In my own way I hope to capture the truth and emotion of the glorious Canadian landscape and the transcendental quality of light, shadows and reflections, which when combined can transform the familiar into something we see for the first time. Welcome to my website, I sincerely hope you enjoy the images herein.
Thomas J. Wilson