Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Online Lecture by Rebecca Senf: "Even Ansel Adams Had to Earn a Living"

Earlier today, I "attended" a lecture called "Even Ansel Adams Had to Earn a Living" which was about Adams's lesser-known commercial work. It was meant to be held as a traditional lecture held last month in the SW US, but it was moved online because of all of the social distancing we're doing. Here's a bit about the event:

Info after registering for the lecture:

About the book:
Making a Photographer: The Early Work of Ansel Adams
Rebecca A. Senf; with a foreword by Anne Breckenridge Barrett
An unprecedented and eye-opening examination of the early career of one of America’s most celebrated photographers
Purchase Book Here.

One of the most influential photographers of his generation, Ansel Adams (1902–1984) is famous for his dramatic photographs of the American West. Although many of Adams’s images are now iconic, his early work has remained largely unknown. In this first monograph dedicated to the beginnings of Adams’s career, Rebecca A. Senf argues that these early photographs are crucial to understanding Adams’s artistic development and offer new insights into many aspects of the artist’s mature oeuvre.

Drawing on copious archival research, Senf traces the first three decades of Adams’s photographic practice - beginning with an amateur album made during his childhood and culminating with his Guggenheim-supported National Parks photography of the 1940s. Highlighting the artist’s persistence in forging a career path and his remarkable ability to learn from experience as he sharpened his image-making skills, this beautifully illustrated volume also looks at the significance of the artist’s environmentalism, including his involvement with the Sierra Club.

About the author:
Dr. Rebecca A. Senf is Chief Curator at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. Her B.A. in Art History is from the University of Arizona; her M.A. and Ph.D. were awarded by Boston University. In 2012, her book Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe was released by University of California Press; in 2017, her book To Be Thirteen, showcasing the work of Betsy Schneider, was published by Radius Press and Phoenix Art Museum. Senf is an Ansel Adams scholar, and recently published a book on Ansel Adams’s early years, called Making a Photographer, co-published by the CCP and Yale University Press.

When the time came, I jumped into the lecture:

There were immediately 200+ people there, and there were about 300 people there throughout the lecture.

Senf talked about Adams's early client-based work, and how that helped him to be able to understand his audience and to create work specifically for that client.

Senf speaking from the top of the screen, with her presentation below her.

Some work for the Sierra Club.

Senf talked about Adams realizing that he could use his style to "invest us as viewers" by showing us the power of the natural landscape. He worked to "create drama and invoke awe in the viewers." Senf made the argument that (because of his exposure and darkroom skills) his images showed how he FELT, not what he SAW.

"Moonrise over Hernandez New Mexico" - a much talked-about image
of his - comparing his final image and the more "raw" positive.

Adams was very upfront about the commercial work he did and how it supported his fine art career. He didn't shy away from talking about it. But he didn't connect them - he saw his commercial work and his fine art work as 2 very separate entities. One of Senf's points is that they were actually quite connected. I'd be curious to read more about that in her book.

According to Senf, early in his career, Adams was "coached" by his employer to make his images to promote Yosemite: he was only told to shoot winter scenes with deep, dramatic snow. He photographed people in front of large redwoods to make it more dramatic. This coaching seemed to directly affect how he would approach his own personal work.

Early work for Yosemite: deep snow and people dwarfed by large trees.

Adams struck a deal where the National Park would pay him just half of what they had agreed upon as long as he could retain the negatives. He seemed to understand they'd have a sellability, so he leveraged the commercial opportunity of the images. "There was less of an identity schism" back then between being a commercial vs fine art photographer Senf argued, so he just did what he could as a photographer (without being worried how the public would view his endeavors).

On that note, a postcard image is the cover of Senf's book. Adams would have printed these himself in large quantity:

Check out the book from Yale University Press here.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

DMA Senior Show 2020

Earlier this past week, the senior Digital Media Arts (DMA) students from Hamline University had an online senior show:

Here's a link with their senior projects.

After that "opening," many of us got together on Google Meet to chat. Here's a screenshot with 4 other DMA professors and 10 of my current or former students:

The discussion was mainly about summer plans and nostalgic video games.

Related to wrapping up the school year at Hamline: the "Intro to Animation" class had to go into "MacGyver" mode to finish up the semester without the computer labs at school. The instructor shared all the final projects from that class in this YouTube playlist. As with any "Intro" class, the work is all across the board, but my boys enjoyed watching these short animations with me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Yesterday was finals for both of my classes. I'm doing a lot of grading today, in the hopes that I'll wrap up by Thursday or Friday. All things considered, the semester went a lot better than I thought it would. Had you told me back in January that I'd spend the last half of the semester teaching remotely, I would have freaked out. But professors and students got through it! I sent an email to both of my classes last night thanking them for being part of this crazy semester with me, because none of us signed up for this. What a ride.

I have 3 more projects that I'm waiting on, and then all the work will be turned in. (Two from a student who has just disappeared, and one from a student who had some family issues - so all of this feels just like a normal semester!)

Here are 3 Facebook posts from this past semester. First, something I shared in a private online teaching group:

Second, here's part of a post from mid-April (about a month ago) that talks about how much work this has been:

And finally, here's something I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago:

Such a strange semester.

Not surprisingly, critiques were the thing I missed the most. In both of my classes, we did something where my students uploaded all their project files, and then they looked through everyone else's files and sent me feedback for each classmate regarding "what was done well" and "what needed some work." Then I anonymously shared all the feedback for each student on his/her grade sheet on the second page of the rubric. That was a great way to get peer feedback (and to get MORE than you'd usually get from just the half of class that usually speaks up in critique), but it was also a lot of work to make happen. And there's nothing like seeing these photos in person and giving face-to-face feedback.

Well, on to the next one. I'm already re-writing my syllabus for the fall to include a section about what to expect if we are forced into remote learning again. Right now, next fall and spring are still one big question mark.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Photographing the Dead

Here's a proposal in The Sacramento Bee from June 7, 1897:

Sunday, May 10, 2020

"Bare Men:" the Catalog

I recently got notification of "Bare Men: the Group Show" had a digital catalog ready to download. Here are a few images from it:

The cover.

About the exhibit.

The curator's statement.

Part of the exhibition, with mine 3rd from the right on the bottom. Click here for a larger view.

A spread from near the end of the 131 page exhibition catalog.

Everyone who was part of the exhibition had their piece featured on a page, and the last few spreads were different views of the entire exhibition (like the image above). Here's the catalog if you're interested. And here are some more views of the exhibition.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Venus de Milo

Friday, May 01, 2020

Monthly Challenge 4 of 12: Courses

When I first had the thought of doing these "monthly challenges," one of the things I knew I waned to do was brush up on some software: (maybe) go more in depth with video editing software, and (for sure) brush up on things that I underutilize in Photoshop.

After our public libraries closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, they were posting on social media that anyone with a library card had access to videos. That's huge, because's base price is $30/month if you pay monthly, or $20/month if you pay yearly. I don't have all kinds of extra time during this "stay at home" order as I'm still teaching remotely (which is substantially more work), and I'm teaching my 2 boys their lesson plans as well. So while I'm at home a whole lot more, it's not just boring/lounging time. But I made it a point to create an account on April 1st and start watching videos.

A screenshot from early April: I had picked 3 "courses" (groups of videos) and
was a half hour into the 13 hour course (which is the "3% complete" part).

What I'm still watching is "Photoshop 2020 One-on-One: Fundamentals" with Deke McClelland. He's got quite the history with digital imaging, and he's a great instructor.

I first had 3 videos in my playlist, but now I have 6. (And I've created 3 more playlists
for other random things I'd like to learn.) And I'm 77% done with my first 13 hour course.

I've been taking notes on things that he's clarified for me, and I'm really getting a lot out of it. My first criticism came after about 2 hours (which made me realize that McClelland was doing a great job - as a professor myself, I suspected I’d be having a lot of thoughts of "oh, I’d have taught that THIS way," but I didn’t until this point!). He was talking about how you can customize your workspace, which is a great topic (something I show in my classes briefly as well). But instead of saying something like "here are some of the panels you can have open if you like to work this way, and then you can save it by doing this," he instead said "open up these 25 panels, place them all exactly like this, and then save your workspace." I’ve never thought it to be helpful to tell someone exactly what their workspace should look like. He missed the chance to say "make it your own - use it in the way that works for you" while instead saying "do it exactly like this with these 25 panels." Also, his idea required you to memorize 15 of those 25 symbols if they were to do you any good, and at the time, he hadn't taught us how to use most of those panels yet. (And in a future video, he was still using the "Window" pull-down to find the correct panel, even though it was one he had as a tab on his workspace.) Again, as I said at the start of this paragraph, this was about my ONLY criticism after watching 2 hours of videos over a few days, and I have nothing but respect for McClelland and his knowledge!

McClelland's 25 tabs set the way we should do it (?!) even though only 2 are open now.

Later on, another thing I didn’t care for was that some techniques/tools were taught by saying something like "download the exercise files and you’ll see I have a vector-based layer along with some paths saved as part of that file." That’s great, but can you teach me how to make those myself?... Because I’d have a better understanding of them if I was taught how to use them (what he WAS doing) ALONG with how to MAKE them on my own. Because I know they won’t just appear for me like the samples did in your files for us. If I were creating a series of videos like this (and I’m not trying to compare myself to McClelland because he’s obviously a Photoshop king), I’d spend more time on the basics before moving to more advanced things, and then show how to create those advanced along the way as opposed to just "download the files and play around with these advanced things that I have saved for you in there." He jumped right into "Photoshopping" things, whereas I start with more basics for a while before jumping in that deep. I think that’s just a slight difference in teaching pedagogy / philosophy (and the fact that I teach “Digital Photography” classes, and not “Photoshop” classes).

McClelland pushed lots of quick key options that I wasn’t aware of (the vast majority that I’ll never remember and never have to use). I’m used to using different letters to jump around (like "j" for spot healing brush, "c" for crop, etc.) But I wasn’t aware that if you just wanted to use a tool for a second, you can just HOLD that letter down while using the tool, and then when you let go of that key, you’ll be back in your original tool. (So if you’re using any tool and then need to quick zoom, you can hold "z" while zooming, and when you let go, Photoshop will have you right back with the tool you were just using before zooming.) That’s something I might try getting in the habit of using!

A few other weird things:

He kept doing "Save As" and saving over existing file names. Repeatedly. More often in the videos than I’ve done in my entire life.

Finally after 5.5 chapters (of the 15 chapter series), we get to basic image adjustments. That felt REALLY late. Again, this could easily just be me coming from more of a "Digital Photography" background, and not just a "Photoshopping" background.

So many quick keys! That he shared time-and-time again! I don’t need to know 5 ways to scrub a slider left or right. And I sure don’t need to have them repeated to me movie after movie. (But to this guy’s credit, he’s suggested quick key shortcuts to Adobe, and they’ve implemented them! So he’s got cred!)

Most of the videos are just a few minutes long, which is great.

And note the "eyeball icon" - that keeps track of what you've watched so it's easy to log back in and pick up where you left off. In this case, McClelland's course has 165 total videos, and I only have 34 left. I'll be finishing up this weekend.

So I had lots of minor complaints. But quite few, considering. And I DID end up liking the way he taught similar ideas at the same time. For example: he didn’t teach ALL of the Camera Raw converter in one video (or even one chapter, although it was a big part of chapter 7). He showed parts at first. When talking about cropping and rotating images in Photoshop later, he came back and showed how to do that in Camera Raw. I liked that. You learn how to do one thing (crop/rotate in this case), and you can learn all the ways to do that. That seems a bit easier/smarter than just saying "OK, and HERE’S all the stuff you can do inside Camera Raw" which would be overwhelming.

I may not have a May "monthly challenge" post, because I plan on spending a LOT more time with - this is EASILY a 2 month process, and I actually hope to be utilizing different videos all year. Thanks St. Paul Public Library, Deke McClelland, and!

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