The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts is presenting a marvelous new look at the works of Ansel Adams from now until October. It’s a fascinating look at an iconic photographers work… with some surprising images that send me back to my own collection of work to re-evaluate the whole black and white idea in my own portfolio.
In the 60’s and 70’s my photographic interest was totally in the B&W darkroom. My husband and I would build a darkroom in the basement or bathroom of whatever apartment or house we were living in and spend our evenings in the dark with our hands in the chemicals… adjusting exposures, dodging and burning… to achieve the range of tones of the great Modernist photographer who was already a legend.
Adams system involved ‘previsualization’ which meant the artist should imagine what the final print should look like before he even took the shot. Today’s modern digital cameras provide that in the ‘scenes’ setup modes in even the least expensive models… and the digital preview on the screen that shows what you’re about to shoot… and what you have shot!! B&W and sepia toned images are possible without even the slightest bother of a darkroom tray. I wonder what Ansel would say!!
I went back to my own files, in which I’ve only made a few conversions to B&W over the past few years. I was interested to see if the modern B&W processes would turn a few of my favorite images into something new and different. I have to admit that I saw them with new eyes in their new B&W forms. The process let me visualize what they should look like before the conversion and that helped me make the decisions of tone and exposure along the way. A far cry from the smelly darkroom dodging and burning and more satisfying results!!