Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is probably the photographer that most people think of when you say “black and white”. He took beautiful photographs of landscapes, most famously in the American west. He created a complicated system of photographic exposure and development known as the Zone System. He wrote several influential texts about photography. I hate him.

 

Why? He does not play to the strengths of the photographic medium as it exists in the early 21st Century, and his persistence in the public mind overshadows many equally valid – in my view, arguably superior – types of photography. More bluntly, his kind of photography no longer really exists, yet still drives our expectations. 

 

When I first started photographing things, I kept wondering why I couldn’t produce an image like Adam’s Moon and Half Dome. I was depressed and anxious; I thought the problem was me. But, over time, I realized that I would never take an Ansel Adams photograph, because I didn’t have his equipment, his outlook or his access to the mountains of the American Rockies – and that this was a good thing. 

 

Adams practised large-format photography, in which you lug around an enormous camera with tripod, and carefully take photographs – generally in really good light – of motionless subjects. Then you fiddle obsessively with development of the 8 x 10 inch negatives and, ultimately, the finished prints, to ensure you have a wide tonal range. The results are large and detailed images, often stunning.

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All Images © Tom Onyshko, 2017