Saturday, April 04, 2015

Book review: Group f.64 by Mary Street Alinder

For anyone interested in the history of fine art photography, and is serious about fine art photography, this book, "Group f.64", by Mary Street Alinder, which has been sixteen years in the making, is not to be missed. I think its well worth the read once I started reading it was hard to put down. That says a lot for a book that is about a bunch of photographers, including Ansel Adams and Edward Weston running around with their large format cameras taking pictures from everything from mountains, to peppers to nudes. 

 The author, has written a fine book that has been throughly researched with extensive notes and references. It tells the story about the emerging group of photographers that called themselves Group f.64 who changed photography in a dramatic way by making straight photographs vs Pictorialism. Ansel Adams says in the book ( p. 264 )… "Both Pictorialists and Purists, he explained, manipulated their photographs through choices of exposure, filters, lenses, framing, printing papers, and development -all basic photographic procedures -but somewhere along the line the manipulative freedom of the photographer must be arrested by the inescapable limitations of the medium. This point of honest simplicity and maximum emotional statement suggests the basis of a critical definition of photography as an art form -that is, as a means of more than factual statement."

 I like the part where Ansel talks about holding back on the "manipulative freedom" of the photographer and emphasizes the "honest simplicity and maximum emotional statement" of the photograph.I learned a lot from reading this book, I had not known of all the women members of the group, Imogen Cunningham, Sonya Noskowiak, Dorothea Lange ( a later member of the group ), I was not familiar with the work of Consuelo Kanaga , who deserves respect for her photography and was the only one of four invited guest photographers to achieve membership status of Group f.64, also I had not realized that there was such a heated battle of words in the photo magazine Camera Craft between Ansel Adams and his photographic enemy, William Mortensen, a champion of the Pictorialists.

 After reading the book, Its good to know the history of where we have come from as photographers as it can help guide us into the future. I think there are is still lessons to be learned in this modern era of digital photography where "anything goes" with photoshop, many of the principals outlined by the straight photographers still have relevance today. In many ways overly Photoshopped images that are routinely shown on the internet today versus something more quiet, subtle and straight forward, is no different than what was happening over 80 years ago when Pictorialists were manipulating their photographs, and straight photographers were trying to show something much different, only the tools today are more advanced, the principals remain the same. Long live straight photography!

 I will be studying this book for a while yet and I have underlined in pencil many passages and turned over the corners of many pages, I'm sure I will have to re-read it again to fully take in the full context of the book. 

 I bought my book through Amazon: Group f/64

No comments: