Recommended Reads 2 – The Camera, The Negative and The Print by Ansel Adams

In the second of our series on recommended books Joe Grabham has come up with a real classic: Ansel Adams’s The Camera, The Negative and The Print. Now available from Amazon and probably everywhere else in three discrete volumes. When I asked Joe his immediate reaction was John Hedgerow’s Fun in the Dark Room but, apart from the 1970s feel of the book with its weak spine and tatty dusk cover there were also moral issues over just what fun one could have in a dark room.

Some may argue that, in this age of digital cameras and PhotoShop, there is no need for Ansel Adams and his zone system or the intricacies of a view camera. However, though I don’t possess any of the three books, my research reveals that the wisdom of Adams is still relevant on many levels. To really understand the workings of a camera, especially in relation to the subject to be photographed, there are few writers capable of presenting the material with such care and clarity. If anything, the diagrams and the text take the reader deep into what some with a fanciful imagination might call “The Soul” of the beast.

To have a book devoted to the negative (what’s that mister? I can almost hear some youngster ask) is rare. To treat the subject with reverential attention, as Adams does, is to provide the photographer with a technical basis for much of what s/he will strive for over the lifetime of his/her sensor.

As for The Print, the technique Adams writes about may be so very different from what we now use that those of us who caught a faint, residual perfume from Arthur Smith’s developed photograms and had our memories shaken awake realise how foreign darkroom work must seem to those who know only digital processes. The hours spent in a tiny, dark cell bent over the three trays or fiddling with a Johnson’s tank hoping that our roll of unprocessed film is properly wound on is almost monastic. It’s all done by touch until the red light can be switched on and we fire up the old Durst (I should be so lucky… Russian technology was all I could afford).

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