Photoshop Before Photoshop: Ansel Adams and James Dean

March 8, 2017 by Jack Dziamba. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday.


“James Dean in Times Square,” with printing notations. Image printed by Pablo Inirio. Photograph by Dennis Stock .

Photoshop Before Photoshop

Our post, ANSEL ADAMS, AND PHOTOGRAPHY BEFORE PHOTOSHOP ,(2013), has been a perennial favorite since its publication in February, 2013. The popularity of the post is epitomized by the Before and After prints of Adams’ iconic image, “Moonrise,” which demonstrates his masterful skill in the darkroom to make the spectacular finished print. Adams made no secret of the skills he used in producing the finished print. Indeed, his book, The Print , details, step by step, how such a dramatic print is made.

It seems though that certain “purists” have a view that before photoshop, prints were exhibited as they came “straight out of the camera.” Alas, such was never true. In the time of film, the darkroom was photoshop.  To further illustrate this point, we have reproduced, below, our post, WHERE HAVE ALL THE DARKROOMS GONE? (2016).  Whether the darkroom or photoshop, neither is a substitute for the skill of the artist.

                                 Pictured below, is Ansel Adams with the straight print side-by-side with the finished print of “Moonrise.”


How Iconic Images Were Made in the Darkroom

“Want to see what kind of work goes into turning a masterful photograph into an iconic print? Pablo Inirio, the master darkroom printer who works at Magnum Photos‘ New York headquarters, has personally worked on some of the cooperative’s best-known images. A number of his marked-up darkroom prints have appeared online, revealing the enormous amount of attention Inirio gives photos in the darkroom.

Before Photoshop There Was The Darkroom

The comparison images above show photographer Dennis Stock’s iconic portrait of James Dean in Times Square. The test print on the left shows all the work Inirio put into making the final photo look the way it does. The lines and circles you see reveal Inirio’s strategies for dodging and burning the image under the enlarger, with numbers scattered throughout the image to note different exposure times. “(Source: Peta Pixel Sept. 12, 2013, Marked Up Photographs Show How Iconic Prints Were Edited in the Darkroom.)

Ansel Adams – in the Darkroom – Before and After

How Did He Do That?

In the darkroom. Adams, in his book, The Print describes the work that he did in the darkroom on another of his famous images, Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake, Alaska (1948),

“The sky was of such low saturation blue that no filter would have had much effect… Considerable burning [darkening] and dodging [lightening] are required. I hold back the shadowed lake and foreground for about three-fourths of the exposure time, using a constantly moving card held relatively close to the lens…The lake surface is burned in later to balance the amount of dodging of the surrounding hills and foreground.” -Ansel Adams, The Print, Little Brown (1983), p. 166 from “ANSEL ADAMS, AND PHOTOGRAPHY BEFORE PHOTOSHOP.”

The Darkroom Preserved

“At the time of the transition to digital photography, the Canadian photographer Michel Campeau initiates “The Dark Room” series in honor of photographic laboratories.Thanks to Pascal Beausse, head of the photographic collections, and to the teams of the Centre National des Arts Plastiques who have produced the above video.  The video is is registered in the inventory of the National Collection of Contemporary Art. (Source:l’Oedil de la Photographie.com, In the Collection of the Cnap : Michel Campeau 30/03/2016 by Pascal Beausse .)

More: Sarah Coleman of The Literate Lens , “Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing.”

2 comments on “Photoshop Before Photoshop: Ansel Adams and James Dean

  1. Fantastic post. In the late ’70’s my wife & I along with our friend Ron Bentley, an attorney & photographer from Australia were able to meet Ansel & his wife, having been invited to their house on the ocean in Monterey. I wrote him, asking if we could visit after Ron expressed a strong interest & to my surprise was invited down, a visit that included cocktails in their living room & a studio tour. We were also given signed copies of their previous December’s Christmas card. Of course ours, a gorgeous shot of Half Dome, is hanging on my wall. Subsequently Ron took classes with Ansel at his workshop in Yosemite.

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