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Posted By:farhad

Old Comments:

2008-12-25 15:50:27
Farhad you should know that photography We hear over and over the question as to whether photography can be considered as its own form of Art. And we see numerous treatises on yes it is and no it isn't. The main objection seems to be that it is primarily a mechanical process that handles most of the work—that the photographer has nothing further to do with it, other than some manipulation in the printing of the picture (If indeed the photographer does his own darkroom work. For example the WWII photographers overseas snapped the shutters, but the stateside labs developed the film and printed the pictures—the photographers usually had no idea what the results, if any, would be). Perhaps I can offer one way that might help come to some conclusion. In 1956-57 I spent upwards to a year with William Mortensen in Laguna Beach, California, learning his philosophies and techniques, both of which I have loyally practiced for over forty years as a portrait photographer. Mr. Mortensen had developed his own techniques of lighting the subject, determining the exposure, developing the film, and making the print. At every step, he ran afoul of the Group f/64 headed by Ansel Adams, who believed that there should be no "manipulation" in either developing the film or making the print. It would seem that this philosophy itself would eliminate photography from the consideration of Art, by their own arguments. The group had so much clout that they were successful in the elimination of Mortensen from virtually every history of photography for over a decade. Mortensen reversed the basic concept of "Expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights" by practicing the opposite. The concept demanded the darkroom technician to "pull" the negative at a certain point of development, guided by what's known by the "gamma" factor. This short-changing of the negative robs it of a certain degree of its potential by stopping development before it is complete. I cannot argue the results as shown by luminaries such as the Group f/64—they have certainly produced magnificent photographs that will live on forever. But I can argue the basic concept. Mortensen said that a negative, compared with the ultimate "camera obscura," the human eye, is restricted enough in its ability to record the complete gradations of a subject, that to further rob it of that ability makes little sense. The above concept does just that. The Mortensen concept "Expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows" results in complete development of the film, arriving at what he called his "7-Derivative," or "7-D" negative. He even proved it by giving the film adequate agitation during the basic time for that film to be completely developed, say five minutes, then "going out to lunch"—he left the film in the developer for upwards to 1-1/2 hours, or just up to the time when developer breakdown would stain the negatives. From the 5-minute development on, nothing else can happen; everything has been done. With a totally developed negative, only minimal exposure need be done to the paper for a fully graded print, from its whitest white to its blackest black. I have done this several times, the 1-1/2 hour bit, with no untoward effect on the negatives. Getting to the point of the title, this practice of involving the photographer in every aspect of achieving a picture goes a long way to place photography in the halls of Art, but it has one more demand. Mortensen, a most competent artist, fulfilled that demand. Long before going into photography he studied in New York with the artists Bridgeman, Henri, and Bellows, painting mostly cityscapes,spent a year in Greece painting. Back in his home state in Salt Lake City he taught art classes in his old high school. I saw a couple of his oils that Myrdith Mortensen had in Laguna Beach—highly competent work. The point is that he was a proven artist, carrying that talent into his work with photography. I'm sure that my own competence as an artist, albeit a technical artist as compared with a fine artist, has been behind my suc