The Ansel Adams Reality

photo006A few weeks ago I, along with a couple of friends, went to an Ansel Adams exhibit at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana. The exhibit, entitled Ansel Adams: A Legacy, was quite comprehensive, including more than 100 prints, some famous, some I have never seen before. It was beautifully laid out and, despite the lighting in the main hall being a bit too flat, was almost overwhelming upon first sight. It was a wonderful exhibit which was incredibly inspiring for a couple of very important reasons.  First, Ansel’s vision was amazing, and his prints, some more than 50-years-old, were spectacular in their tonality and presentation (I do not mean framing). One cannot help but be inspired by such insightful vision and artistry.

The second reason I was so inspired was that I discovered that not all of his photographs were perfect. As beautiful as they were, some showed attempts to spot out dust, others perhaps slightly uneven development, and a couple had less than ideal depth of field. As the small reproductions I had seen so often in books and magazines looked PERFECT, I was a bit taken aback. I mean, it’s not the first time I had ever seen Ansel’s work, but it has been many years and I was a different photographer back then.  This time, I studied each print longer with more depth of thought and attention. While viewing one of the large prints, it hit me….Ansel Adams, a man many, including myself, have elevated to the level of demigod, was not perfect. There were chinks in his armor. The slight feeling of unworthiness and discouragement I had felt upon entering the gallery subsided. Ansel wasn’t perfect. I mean, it’s not like I thought he really WAS perfect – who is? – but I was witnessing his imperfection, first hand, and it was liberating. Because if Ansel, as amazing as he was, was not perfect, and I sure as hell ain’t perfect, then he and I share a common bond. And what could be more inspiring?

Unapologetic

My name is Chuck, and I’m a landscape photographer…………(chorus) Hello Chuck

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I sometimes feel as if people expect me to apologize for what I do. I mean, landscape photographers are the proverbial red-headed step children of the art world. Our work gets little respect from the larger commercial galleries, most art museum curators cringe when we speak, and there isn’t an MFA program in the country that would allow a student to photograph the landscape, unless to support a purposely controversial and contrived concept which, as often as not, is supported by badly seen and poorly executed imagery.

So why do I do it? Why do I spend countless hours on back roads, often sleeping in my car, looking for compelling scenes which I find meaningful? Why do I suffer the gut-wrenching failures and frustrations which can only be caused by something so deeply personal? I simply do not know. It is something I am driven to do by inner forces I cannot explain, nor would if I could. It’s a compulsion and, should it be examined more closely by those in the field of psychology, most probably a yet-to-be-discovered mental disorder.

It is also something I enjoy doing. A lot. Photographing the landscape brings me inner peace, and is as close to emotional and mental therapy as I will probably ever get. I am sure it’s similar to the effect my wife gets when she meditates. Most importantly, though, above all else, is that it is something I find meaningful, and I hope that, through my unique vision and presentation, I can convey that level of importance to the viewer.

So, in essence and actuality, I do it for….me. For my mental health, for my soul. THAT is what makes what I do “art.” I do not do it for the explicit intent of making sales (although always appreciated, of course), being accepted into juried exhibits or “earning” a piece of parchment.

And I do so without apology.