Book Review: Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, by Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams’ ::amazon(“082121750X”, “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs”):: is another excellent book, one which invites comparisons to Rowell’s ::amazon(“0871563673”, “Mountain Light”)::, which I reviewed yesterday. (If you haven’t read that review yet, go take a look.)

Examples, save for a brief introduction, consists of 40 small image essays comparable in many ways to the image essays in Mountain Light. As with Rowell, each essay begins with a single image followed by a far-reaching essay that can touch on the place, the people, the methods, the artistic concepts and other elements related to each image, typically about ten paragraphs in length. Like Rowell, Adams has a gift for effectively conveying the thoughts behind each image.

For the many and varied technical issues that arise in the course of describing each image, Adams makes extensive reference to his excellent New Photography Series, ::amazon(“0821221841″,”The Camera”)::, ::amazon(“0821221868″,”The Negative”)::, and ::amazon(“0821221876″,”The Print”)::. Not being nearly as familiar with traditional black and white darkroom print work as I am with Rowell’s methods, occasionally a technical note or two will pass over my head unless I’m willing to walk back to the library (what precisely is normal plus one development?), but the great wealth of the material in Examples is readily accessible to photographers of any stripe, particularly if they’ve any familiarity with the numbering of the Zone System.

The book reproduction, at least in my own hardback copy, is excellent, approaching (but of course, not quite reaching) the original prints themselves, many of which I’ve had the privilege to see in person in years past. Each image is given it’s own page, perhaps eight inches on the long side, in comparison with the somewhat smaller (but more numerous) reproductions in Mountain Light. For this reason, many fans of Adams work would do well to purchase this book if only for the images themselves, it’s all too easy to skip the text of Examples and simply browse Adams’ consistent and amazing vision.

Rather than thinking of Examples as a competitor to Mountain Light, I prefer to think of them as complementary. Adams’ use of black-and-white is of course one significant example of that, and Examples provides numerous examples of the specialized filtering unique to black and white work, as well as explaining well issues of tonal control. Despite being predominantly a color photographer myself, I’ve found the underlying concepts of tonal control to be helpful in my own work, and Adams provides detail at times on issues of local dodging and burning, whereas Rowell typically remains mute on his printmaking techniques.

Thus, ::amazon(“082121750X”, “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs”):: often ends up being my second suggestion, even for color photographers, for combining a wealth of teaching material in an accessible, interesting, and beautiful format, and like Mountain Light, Examples has earned it’s honored place on my photographic bookshelf.

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