You're as Cold as Ice

I’ve been accused of being a shut-in. I like staying home, working in the yard, and eating gumbo. I’m not the type of person who would love to eat at fancy restaurants every night. However, for someone who supposedly is a shut-in, I’ve been to every continent on earth except Antarctica. This is one of my goals. I’ve seen documentaries about exploration cruises to Antarctica, but everyone looks like they are over 65. They all have orange coats, and I wonder if that’s coincidence, or a cruise gift.

Herbert Ponting was the photographer on Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition in 1910. Illustration had been the art form used to document scientific expeditions for centuries. Ponting and Scott were determined to use photography as this resource. Ponting’s work, especially his film work, is the basis for every wildlife documentary we see now. After 14 months with the expedition, Ponting returned to England to catalogue the photographs. The Scott expedition, unfortunately, ended tragically with Scott and the other expedition members died from exposure, malnutrition, and exhaustion. While it may seem gruesome, he was buried inside the Ross Ice Shelf. His body will slowly move toward the sea, and eventually be set adrift inside an iceberg. This seems remarkably fitting for the polar explorer.

Ponting’s images were too sharp and clear for an Edwardian audience who preferred photographs soft and painterly. But this technique was a precursor to modernist photography and the sharp focus of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Willard Van Dyke.

 

Shooting the Tube

There is a huge difference between a dull photograph of Yosemite Valley and an Ansel Adams photo. Adams didn't photograph Yosemite Valley, he shot the weather in the valley.

Left: Carleton Watkins, Right: Ansel Adams

In the same way, there is a lot of bad surfing photography. It's the same shot over and over, someone tube-riding shot from below. LeRoy Grannis' photos, however, are good, really good, surfing photos. They are not the same shot over and over. Beside the obvious issues of lighting, composition, color, and content, Grannis' images work because they are not photos of surfing. He photographs the people surfing. The images are about culture and community. They objectively depict the surf community in the 1960s and 70s. This separates the work from traditional sports photography. The action is the backdrop to the individuals in the frame.

They also work because everyone is super groovy, even the elderly spectators with bitchin' sunglasses.

The Color of Light

I have a stack of prints that I inherited sitting in my flat files at home. Once in awhile I’ll go through them, and consider framing one and putting it up. But I don’t have room, so they stay in the drawer. There are a couple of Maxfield Parrish (1870 - 1966) prints that I love, but can’t get past the image of one hanging in the den at the ranch. It just seems to “little old lady” to put one up. Nevertheless, they are beautiful. I could do without the lounging androgynous characters in Greek temples, but the landscapes are remarkable.

Both Ansel Adams and Maxfield Parrish worked through the beginning of the 20th-century. They shared the idea of creating images that went beyond traditional landscapes. Adams didn’t photograph the landscape; he photographed the weather. Parrish didn’t paint the landscape; he painted the light. The colors are iridescent. I’ve been told that he painted in layers, much like a printer lays one color on top of another, and the translucency of the paint produces a richer, more complex effect. Parrish also had a sense of narrative. The house in New Moon has a warm glow of a light inside, creating a sense of security, comfort, and warmth.