Today’s Birthday: Ansel Adams

Ansel Easton Adams
February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984

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Moon and Half Dome taken in Yosemite National Park in 1960 is just one of Adam’s iconic landscape photographs.

Ansel Adams was an American photographer as well as an environmentalist. His black-and-white landscape photographs of the American West have been widely reproduced on calendars, as posters (like the ones in this post), and in many volumes of books.

Adams is also known for developing the Zone System with Fred Archer, as a way to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of the final print. The resulting clarity and depth from using this system characterized his photographs. Adams also used large-format cameras because of the high resolution of this type of camera and helped ensure sharpness in his images.

Adams founded the San Francisco based photography Group f/64 along with fellow photographers Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston. They decided to organize some of their fellow photographers for the purposes of promoting a common aesthetic principle.

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His legacy includes helping to elevate photography to an art comparable with painting and music, and equally capable of expressing emotion and beauty. He told his students, “It is easy to take a photograph, but it is harder to make a masterpiece in photography than in any other art medium.”

Art critic John Szarkowski wrote “Ansel Adams attuned himself more precisely than any photographer before him to a visual understanding of the specific quality of the light that fell on a specific place at a specific moment. For Adams the natural landscape is not a fixed and solid sculpture but an insubstantial image, as transient as the light that continually redefines it. This sensibility to the specificity of light was the motive that forced Adams to develop his legendary photographic technique.” Read a lot more on Wikipedia

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Today’s Birthday: Edward S. Curtis

Edward Sheriff Curtis
February 16, 1868 – October 19, 1952

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Curtis was an American ethnologist and photographer of the American West and of Native American people. His images were my first introduction to Native American life, and life as it was in the old American West. Many of his images were romanticized, edited and retouched to erase the coming modern times, but these same images are also iconic photographs from the time period.

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He is documented on Wikipedia:

… In 1885 at the age of 17, Edward became an apprentice photographer in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1887 the family moved to Seattle, Washington, where Edward purchased a new camera and became a partner in an existing photographic studio with Rasmus Rothi. Edward paid $150 for his 50% share in the studio. After about six months, Curtis left Rothi and formed a new partnership with Thomas Guptill. The new studio was called Curtis and Guptill, Photographers and Photoengravers. …

… In 1906, J. P. Morgan provided Curtis with $75,000 to produce a series on the North American Indian. This work was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs. Morgan’s funds were to be disbursed over five years and were earmarked to support only fieldwork for the books not for writing, editing, or production of the volumes. Curtis himself would receive no salary for the project, which was to last more than 20 years. Under the terms of the arrangement, Morgan was to receive 25 sets and 500 original prints as his method of repayment.

Once Curtis had secured funding for the project, he was able to hire several employees to help him. For writing as well as with recording Native American languages, Curtis hired a former journalist, William E. Myers. For general assistance with logistics and fieldwork, Curtis hired Bill Phillips, a graduate of the University of Washington. Perhaps the most important hire for the success of the project was Frederick Webb Hodge, an anthropologist employed by the Smithsonian who had also researched Native American peoples of the southwestern United States. Hodge was hired to edit the entire series. … — Read more on Wikipedia

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Note: The Smithsonian has his birthday listed at February 19, 1868

Today’s Birthday Boy: René Magritte

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Le Fils de L’Homme (Son of Man)

René François Ghislain Magritte (November 21 1898 – August 15 1967)

René Magritte was born in Lessines, in the province of Hainaut, Belgium and died of pancreatic cancer in his own bed at aged 68. He was interred in Schaerbeek Cemetery, Evere, Brussels.

Did you know that during the years after The Second World War, Magritte supported himself by producing fake Picassos, Braques, and Chiricos, as well as fake bank notes?

Magritte was one of those fanciful surrealist European painters that caught my eye early on as a child. How long did I think about the painting of the pipe that had “This is not a Pipe”? written along the bottom edge? A long time …

Magritte’s work frequently displays a collection of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things. The use of objects as other than what they seem is typified in his painting, ‘The Treachery of Images’ (La trahison des images), which shows a pipe that looks as though it is a model for a tobacco store advertisement. Magritte painted below the pipe “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”), which seems a contradiction, but is actually true: the painting is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe. It does not “satisfy emotionally”—when Magritte was once asked about this image, he replied that of course it was not a pipe, just try to fill it with tobacco. — Read his biography on Wikipedia

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Today’s Birthday: Édouard Manet

Édouard Manet
January 23, 1832 – April 30, 1883

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Olympia, 1863-1865

Manet embarked on the canvas after being challenged to give the Salon a nude painting to display. His uniquely frank depiction of a self-assured prostitute was accepted by the Paris Salon in 1865, where it created a scandal. … The painting was controversial partly because the nude is wearing some small items of clothing such as an orchid in her hair, a bracelet, a ribbon around her neck, and mule slippers, all of which accentuated her nakedness, sexuality, and comfortable courtesan lifestyle. The orchid, upswept hair, black cat, and bouquet of flowers were all recognized symbols of sexuality at the time. This modern Venus’ body is thin, counter to prevailing standards; the painting’s lack of idealism rankled viewers. The painting’s flatness, inspired by Japanese wood block art, serves to make the nude more human and less voluptuous. A fully dressed black servant is featured, exploiting the then-current theory that black people were hyper-sexed. That she is wearing the clothing of a servant to a courtesan here furthers the sexual tension of the piece.

Olympia’s body as well as her gaze is unabashedly confrontational. She defiantly looks out as her servant offers flowers from one of her male suitors. … — from Wikipedia

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Gare St Lazare, 1873

The Railway, widely known as The Gare Saint-Lazare, was painted in 1873. The setting is the urban landscape of Paris in the late 19th century. Using his favorite model in his last painting of her, a fellow painter, Victorine Meurent, also the model for Olympia and the Luncheon on the Grass, sits before an iron fence holding a sleeping puppy and an open book in her lap. Next to her is a little girl with her back to the painter, watching a train pass beneath them.

Instead of choosing the traditional natural view as background for an outdoor scene, Manet opts for the iron grating which “boldly stretches across the canvas”[16] The only evidence of the train is its white cloud of steam. In the distance, modern apartment buildings are seen. This arrangement compresses the foreground into a narrow focus. The traditional convention of deep space is ignored.

Historian Isabelle Dervaux has described the reception this painting received when it was first exhibited at the official Paris Salon of 1874: “Visitors and critics found its subject baffling, its composition incoherent, and its execution sketchy. Caricaturists ridiculed Manet’s picture, in which only a few recognized the symbol of modernity that it has become today”. The painting is currently in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.[18] — from Wikipedia