Monday, 29 April 2013

Ansel Adams & Salgado

Getting to see two of the worlds most admired photographer's original work in one day was an immense pleasure. First off was Ansel Adams at the Maritime museum in Greenwich. This is the first time I had seen his huge monumental display pieces and earlier work, many of them small and postcard sized. By todays standard, the pictures shown (apart from three of the great classic shots) were disappointingly ordinary and many were very dull indeed. However, taking into account how and when they were created, they are of course delightful. I think most people, certainly the gallery, consider his work masterpieces, but the fact is, from what was on display here, there's really nothing all that particularly special about the pictures. I can't tell you how disappointed I was. Yes, he's captured spectacular scenes better than anyone else alive working under the huge technical limitations of his time, and that's a superb achievement. But when he wasn't shooting spectacular grand vistas, his pictures were, well, dull. Ordinary. I guess he's become a victim of progress, his work being more technical than artistic now looks dated and dull. Now you have to be reminded how hard it was to get those pictures back then, in order to better appreciate them. 

Salgado was all about today. His exhibition at the Natural History Museum was beautiful. The prints, large and superbly printed, gave astonishingly three-dimenshional depth to the monochrome images of landscapes and people, both separate and entwined. Here is a photographer that connects with his subjects, allowing the viewer to feel through the way he interprets and presents a scene, something of that connection. The picture above is one of my many favourites. The way the people are shown static, yet as if in a circular dance, like a ballet. The tones  are close, rich and detailed. I love the way he gives his images a film-look, using 'grain' to dapple and enhance the tones. In this way, he's moved his image 'style' created from his film days, into current digital capture. Even though he uses digital, and applies digital filters in order to blend both mediums, I don't have a problem with it. The resulting images work so well it's irrelevant. He writes his digital files to film and then prints on traditional silver based papers. Works for me. 

I watched a Review where a critic wondered at the lack of information provided with each picture shown. There was no context or background info available, that's true. And, as the body of work is ostentatiously a document of the present, the style and presentation was overwhelmingly reverential of past photojournalism. Is there is a conflict here? In presenting the current world in a representational form and style of the past, is there an argument that suggests Salgado isn't really relevant to showing the world as it is today? I wonder. Maybe someone needs to cover the world in a style that is current, that reflects a contemporary value. Shot on an iPhone say. Less technically sublime perhaps but possibly more immediate and hence possibly more relevant. Is there a photographer out there doing this right now?  

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