Copying Ansel Adams

Clearing winter storm, Scotland

Every landscape photographer wants to be an Ansel Adams. Every landscape photographer wants to stand out from the rest of the rabble. Usually, this is a good thing: it engenders creativity and experimentation. Many photographers take years to develop their own style. The internet has, unfortunately, altered the approach many photographers use to develop a particular style.

It always begins on one fine day, when a special moment occurs in nature, that the embryonic photographer wishes to record. The first batches of pictures always look awful, and the quest begins to produce something "that looks good", at least to the photographer. In the good old days, that meant attending photography exhibitions, and buying books published by professional photographers in order to ascertain what constitutes "a good photograph" to begin with. The next phase of the landscape photographer's development then ensues which includes a great deal of time attempting to reproduce pictures taken by other photographers which, regrettably, some photographers never grow out of. That is, to produce a good photograph, it is necessary, in the mind of the learning photographer, to reproduce the conditions, and technique, of the masters. In essence, good photographs taken by the beginner share the characteristics of photographs taken by their respective 'photo-idols'. Although photographic artists, and experienced photographers shower scorn on those who seek to emulate (imitate?), the fact is, we all began there: it is a necessary prerequisite for "learning the ropes" in photography.

Before the relative ease of viewing images by other photographers on the internet became commonplace, beginning photographers were constrained to viewing pictures from a limited number of sources. This had the effect by which the photographer had no choice but to develop a style unique to, or representational of, his or her character. Sometimes, when there is no constant point of reference to keep adhering to (these days, that is photographs on the internet), special things happen.

Ansel Adams was a pioneer in landscape photography. There were few forerunners from whom he sourced his mastery. Likewise, Noel Norton is a pioneer of Trinidad & Tobago photography. Possessing a vision all his own, he revolutionised photography in this country. Sadly, the uniqueness of his photography has been somewhat diluted by photographers following his style, somewhat understandably!

Older photographers have an advantage over their younger counterparts, when it comes to developing a particular style. Photographers of today are inundated by terrific photographs on the internet produced by people who have very different ways of seeing similar events in nature. There are so many different styles and techniques to emulate now that it is difficult to settle down. The internet invariably mandates photographers to put up images that attract attention, or that are interesting to the majority of viewers. Indeed, failure to do so will result in the photographer's images not being viewed, undermining the whole point of uploading images onto the internet to start with. There is, therefore, a pressure on photographers to always produce "pretty" pictures, pictures that shock and awe, pictures that "move" the viewer. This is, of course, an impossible feat to sustain without resorting to taking bits and pieces of other people's styles to add variety to the pot. What starts happening is that, especially with new photographers, they liberally "borrow" styles and techniques from many other photographers to keep up with the demand for the spectacular. Essentially, when such a photographer's body of work is viewed a whole, there is no underlying feature or essence that ties it all together. The photographs, although wonderful to look at, seem to have been taken by many different photographers, rather than a single person.

There is always a compromise between the need to be recognised as a person who takes great pictures, and the need to express our personal interaction with the environment, through photography. More often than not, pretty pictures and personal styles, are mutually exclusive events. Of course, a particular personal style may yield beautiful pictures, but that is not really the point. A personal style allows the viewer a glimpse into the mind behind the camera. It allows the viewer to see the mundane through someone else's eyes; to see a bit of magic in the ordinary. By extension, copying someone else's style gives astute viewers a view into THAT photographer's mind as well!

Developing a personal style is not a necessity. There are a million things that can help an individual along the road to self-discovery. Photography is but one of them. It only becomes necessary when photography is an integral part of an individual's life. A personal style helps define the individual, and entrenches a sense of identity. Some photographers regard imitation of someone else's style as tantamount to identity theft. Others take a more magnanimous view. In any event, it is a fact of life: there will always be "Mimic Men". Our photographer is only now beginning to move on more assuredly with his own style, after a decade of taking pictures. Some of those photographs actually appear on this website.

Certainly, producing photographs for this website doesn't do much for our photographer's propensity to do things his own way. The viewership always dictates the type of pictures that appear here. Additionally, the frank refusal, or utter inability, of official Trinidad websites to offer anything other than embarrassingly bad pictures of Trinidad places a further onus on us to make up for the deficit. With the exception of some older images, and the newer black and white 8x10 images, our photographer's development of his personal style has had to take a backseat to this voluntary service we provide to our country.

Our advice to serious photographers would be that although copying Ansel Adams will get you results, it will leave you morally, spiritually, and intellectually empty.

- December 2006


 

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