I first learned about Ansel Adams after reading Christopher Schreck’s post about his photographs from the cave systems of Carlsbad National Park, New Mexico. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more so I did a bit of research and found his work buried in a few archives. I started to wonder, why don’t we know more about this guy? Could he be the next Vivian Maier? An unknown genius only recently discovered?
Alright, sarcasm aside, Wayne Bremser makes a good point in a follow up post.
This discussion about what doesn’t seem relevant about an old master, what rings false, leads to one conclusion: you are looking at the wrong examples of Ansel Adams. This mistake can be made with other art forms, but especially photography, where it’s impossible to see all of the work by prolific photographers (Adams took nearly 40,000 photographs).
Wouldn’t it be interesting if more archives from the masters were publicly available? Think about wandering through 20,000 Eggleston or Cartier Bresson photographs? Copyright and licensing issues would need to be figured out, but that’s a discussion for another day.
What I think is interesting are the variety of interpretations there can be of a body of work from a photographer. It’s preached that photographers need to focus their work, find themes, refine projects and edit, edit, edit. That’s all fine, but I think something we’re starting to learn from the freewheeling web is that people want to actively participate in how they experience photography, and often this means assembling, and remixing the work they find inspiring and intriguing.
I think photographers can harness that impulse and create really interesting new forms of storytelling where an engaged audience actively participates in the construction and interpretation of the work. A good example is the David Hurn ‘Passing Time’ show at Third Floor Gallery where he opened up his archives to the audience and allowed them to create their own pairs.
It doesn’t need to be that ambitious though. Simply having a buried archive where the adventurous explore and create unique edits would add an interesting new layer to a photographer’s work. We already see that to some extent on the web where many young photographers have vast archives on Flickr. You can see one edit of their work on a blog, and then the next day find a completely different interpretation on another blog.
Then again, maybe there aren’t too many people interested in archives and maybe photographer’s are better off editing more, and sharing less. Who knows really, but if Winogrand’s archive ever comes online, I’ll be there digging through the work, trying to discover an edit I find interesting.