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Ansel Adams or Edward Weston: who is the better photographer?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 29, 2012 by schwitters57

Two of the most famous photographers during the 20th century were Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.  The two were friends, but their styles were distinctly different, although they often shared a similar approach when working.

Adams was obsessed with the technical minutia of his craft, going so far as to devise & catalog a system of tonal quality inherent in a photograph:  Adams’s technical mastery was the stuff of legend. More than any creative photographer, before or since, he reveled in the theory and practice of the medium. Weston and Strand frequently consulted him for technical advice. He served as principal photographic consultant to Polaroid and Hasselblad and, informally, to many other photographic concerns. Adams developed the famous and highly complex “zone system” of controlling and relating exposure and development, enabling photographers to creatively visualize an image and produce a photograph that matched and expressed that visualization. He produced ten volumes of technical manuals on photography, which are the most influential books ever written on the subject.

His “Zone System” delineated a range of tones between white and black, each zone separated by an f-stop, or the amount of light exposed to film determined by the aperture, or opening at the moment the shutter is released.  When I was a photography student in the mid 1980’s we were all using manual cameras and processing our own film and developing our own pictures.  The way I learned the craft was to break each procedure down to its component steps and repeat the steps over and over. This was an arduous process that was far removed from creativity, the stuff that got you into art school in the first place. I soon found myself taking short cuts, and you know what? The short cuts didn’t really matter.  I still cranked out decent images that were sometimes even really good. My friends that swore oaths to repetition and its glory just made me feel as though I was getting over on them.  And who knows?  Maybe I was only getting over on myself. Shortcuts can be their own end, I suppose.

I think that in any creative situation there will always be the Ansel Adams types who rely heavily on technique to achieve their ends, and the opposite type, those who rely on instinct to get the image they seek.  I think Edward Weston was the opposite of Ansel Adams.  Adams has written:

“Weston is, in the real sense, one of the few creative artists of today. He has recreated the matter-forms and forces of nature; he has made these forms eloquent of the fundamental unity of the world. His work illuminates man’s inner journey toward perfection of the spirit.”

I’m not really certain what Adams meant when he said that, but I think that the statement itself is indicative of Adams’ style. There is a lot of extraneous information here.  His work is gorgeous, look at that tree, it is beauty itself.  Could Adams have made that image without the vast catalog of the zone system?  I think so, but maybe he needed the extra intellectual boost that his theory gave him. Nothing as beautiful as art should be so easy.

Weston, on the other hand, could look at a green pepper and find its essence in a flash:  “To clearly express my feeling for life with photographic beauty, present objectively the texture, rhythm, form in nature, without subterfuge or evasion in technique or spirit, to record the quintessence of the object or element before my lens, rather than an interpretation, a superficial phase, or passing mood–this is my way in photography. It is not an easy way.”–Edward Weston

Or consider the chambered nautilus beside a humble artichoke.

Weston had extraordinary vision. Just like the deceptively simple line drawing, if you were to try to draw it yourself, you would realize just how difficult it could be to express such simplicity of form. Weston’s focus was enmeshed in the folds of his subjects.

Can you tell the difference between these two photographs?  They each have the same elements: smooth  sand, black shadows and patterned sand.  I’d have to actually see these pictures in person, but off hand I think I like the one on top the best.  The Adams photograph. The vantage point is from a distance, and each element is given a distinct amount of space within the frame.  You could ruminate more about this image & what it suggests;  the footsteps at the center of the picture, where did they come from and why do they end?  The Weston image places your eye directly into the frame.  You are the sand here.

The same can be said of this next sand dune photograph.  Again, you’re right in the frame.  There is no relief, so to speak.  You are the dune and the dune is you.

And the perspective on this smaller Adams image is, again, from a distance.  Ansel Adams’ work seems much more contemplative and distant, or removed from the essence of his subject. Ultimately it’s just a way of seeing and understanding something. Or, if I can borrow from someone much wiser than me, “Now, the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum, what might be right for you, may not be right for some. Because it takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world. Yes it does. It takes, Diff’rent Strokes to move the world.  Cue the song. Fade to black.


Baltimore zoo on an overcast day

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 23, 2012 by schwitters57

My city’s zoo is located in Druid Hill Park, a beautiful big city park established in the 1870’s.

Like Central Park, Druid Hill was at the northern edges of urban development at the time of its establishment. The northern end of the park, which contains some of the oldest forest growth in the state of Maryland, has never been landscaped, but rather left as a natural wooded habitat.The southern end of the park was a popular destination for city dwellers for a number of decades. Druid Hill Lake, the park’s most notable waterway, was constructed in 1863 and remains one of the largest earthen-dammed lakes in the country.  Many of the park’s older fountains and man-made ponds have been drained, allowing nature to reclaim those areas.

When I first moved to Baltimore I lived about four blocks away from the park.  The townhouses in the area are regal.  The apartment I lived in was inside a three story tall townhouse with 14 foot ceilings, marble fireplaces, turreted rooftops & stained glass windows.  Sadly the poverty of the area was rife. But I’m way off track. The zoo is the star of Druid Hill Park, housed in a lovely, turn of the century compound with updated installations for the animals living there.

A Demoiselle crane



Snowy owl






African penguins





An African leopard



Saddle-billed stork



Roseate spoonbill


It was feeding time for the penguins so I got a bit carried away.

Saucer magnolia? You be the judge

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 20, 2012 by schwitters57




Magnolia soulangiana, commonly known as the saucer magnolia, or tulip magnolia or sugar magnolia.  Flowers are large from 5 to 10 inches(!) in diameter, cup-shaped and appearing before the leaves in early to late May.  Those of you who might be worried that this warm spell is scary can add this to the pile.

This popular hybrid originated as a chance seedling in a garden near Paris France over 100 years ago.  Unlike many other trees, it will bloom when it is still very small, plants merely 2 to 3 feet tall often producing several flowers.  Since it is a hybrid species there are many clones, the flowers ranging from white to a deep reddish-purple, according to variety.  According to some reports, the flowers on asingle tree may vary in color somewhat from year to year.  Normally the Saucer Magnolia is as wide as it is high with several main trunks. 

From Trees for American Gardens by Donald Wyman, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, NY.

spring flowers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 19, 2012 by schwitters57

This last image is of my weeping cherry blossom as it prepare to bloom.  If anyone knows what the other flowers are, please let me know.

clouds in early spring

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2012 by schwitters57

Walking the dogs this morning on Father Hooper Field @ Chesterfield and Harford Road, I looked up and saw the most beautiful cloud formations.  I think these are Altocumulus clouds. They are mid-level clouds, spanning from between 6,000 feet up to 20,000 feet into the atmosphere.  They are composed of water droplets, unless it’s cold enough to freeze the droplets into ice crystals.

Altocumulus clouds usually form by convection in an unstable layer aloft, which may result from the gradual lifting of air in advance of a cold front. The presence of altocumulus clouds on a warm and humid summer morning is commonly followed by thunderstorms later in the day.  I got this information from the Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences @ the Univ. of Ill., Urbana-champaign.








double rock park

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 10, 2012 by schwitters57









Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on February 25, 2012 by schwitters57

tall grasses

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on February 17, 2012 by schwitters57

Kauai: A Photographic Tour of the north shore

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2012 by schwitters57

The Hawaiian islands are so completely exotic and alien to the rest of America that it’s hard to describe what might be the most compelling element.  I loved the odd symmetry that you find in the leaves of plants – the flowers that are as big as your hand.

When its not sunny and beautiful, it’s gray and moody.  The clouds constantly encroach, creating an ever changing backdrop of weather possibilities. Best of all, the islands are roughly 2,500 miles away from any continent.  You are just out there.




























San Francisco: a photographic visit

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on February 3, 2012 by schwitters57

Golden Gate Park in early morning when the fog is everywhere. This park is a unbelievably  beautiful. The landscaping and tree specimens are hand-picked and scrupulously maintained.  It was created in the 1890’s and stretches from the Pacific Ocean into the center of San Francisco.  Visiting the park is a great way to get to know the city.



The Conservatory of Flowers



The Carroussl at the Children’s Playground



Golden Gate Bridge



The dome of City Hall



Interior shot of the dome



The staircase in the main hall



Golden Gate Park spider web



don’t know these flowers







Japanese Tea Garden