QT Luong (full disclosure, QT is the man I longed to be for years and years until, arguably, I simply gave up because I lacked the necessary ability) has asked some pointed but intelligent questions on an earlier post. He takes issue with my remark about students of Adams, which was ultimately a throwaway remark based on experiences from decades ago in which I interacted with various and sundry Adams followers.
It's not true, of course, that everyone who ever took a lesson from Ansel Adams sucks, nor I dare say is it even true that they all wrap themselves in the mantle of the great man. Many of them suck, and many of them so wrap themselves (or at any rate did).
More interesting is QT's assertion that black and white landscape all kind of looks like Adams. I read this more as "is naturally associated with" Adams, as a more general statement. Certainly the unsophisticated viewer tends to see a B&W landscape and responds "looks a bit like Adams" pretty much regardless, but I think even there they're simply connecting up the basic tropes, not making a literal statement.
But let's look at some pictures. I have selected two well known photos by Adams, and then three more landscapes by two different Westons with similar tonal ranges. I present them here in two versions, one the "orginal" as downloaded from the web, and two a "crushed tones" version, in which the white tones are lowered to a dismal grey, and the black tones are raised to a somewhat darker dismal grey. Let us see what we can see.
It will be helpful to click the pictures and look at them big. In a proper web browser, it should pop up a viewer thing you can use to flip through the photos.
Ansel Adams again:
Edward Weston again:
I am going to make the bold claim that Adams's pictures lose more by being crushed than either of the Weston's, although neither do they enjoy the process. In particular, without the glittering whites, Adams's work seems to be to be thoroughly demolished. It's still a pretty scene, but it's nothing special. That's just what those places look like. More on this in a moment.
I don't think anyone would mistake Brett Weston's picture, or Weston's dunes, as an Adams. Both of the Westons are far more about firmly graphical pictures, while Adams enjoyed depth of detail you could sink in to forever. Adams was also, I suspect, frankly afraid of the kind of sensual curves that Edward shot constantly. All three of these men have distinctly different voices, though all are photographing, more or less, the same thing with the same tools.
Like most Adams acolytes, I paid little to no attention to his constant harping on genuine emotional reaction to the scene, preferring instead to re-read the
bit on N-1 development and the use of Farmer's Reducer. And, had I kept on with sufficient discipline, I would have probably become what so many of his fans did become, an expert on N-1 development and the use of Farmer's Reducer.
If you're attentive, though, you can see in Adams's pictures precisely what he was on about. Again and again, the picture is about bright sunlight picking out a specific detail, illuminating it in a brief moment of glittering brightness, while the rest of the scene is plunged into gloom, buried in the mist, or sometimes just not quite as glittering. Your average Adams follower goes out and waits for the thing to look a bit like an Adams picture, and goes "click". This usually means exciting clouds over a vista. A more sophisticated one mutters about "the light! the light!" and waits for the light to "do something interesting" before going "click".
Adams, quite clearly, waited for the light to do a specific something interesting. He didn't want some random piece of crap illuminated, he wanted that tree or that waterfall brilliantly illuminated, because to him, that was what the scene felt like. In Adams's Yosemite, Bridal Veil Falls is endlessly falling, a brilliant glowing torrent of purest white, into a dim and mysterious valley of deep green trees while mist dense with spirits swirls around and around forever.
In my Yosemite, the sun has suddenly hit, uh, think it's a big rock over there! Or maybe a chunk of ice! I dunno, but quick, set up the tripod! I am not a landscape photographer and never will be.
This, ultimately, is why I so dislike the work of Adams's followers, in the aggregate. On one end of the spectrum, there are tech nerds who take photographs mostly to test their processes, and make sure to shove in some big clouds. At the other end, there are the light seekers who don't quite know what the light is supposed to do, other than to illuminate something or other, so we can be sure to put a Full Tonal Range down on the paper, the way god intended.
Very very few, it seems, have found a distinct voice, an opinion of their own about the what a landscape is.
Having spent more time with John Sexton's pictures, I have to admit that he's one of them. While he's lifted a lot of design from both Adams and Weston, his voice is distinctly different. Nature is a place of calm, of peace. If he finds his god in nature, John's god is a god of whispers and silence, not of dramatic gestures. But you know, he still lifts the graphics from his precursors, and it's pretty obviously deliberate.
You want to make a living, you better sell some product, after all.