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FULL EPISODE

Ansel Adams: Points of View

Journey into the ALL ARTS Vault for this unique episode featuring Ansel Adams, as he brings his singular perspective to photographing a ranch house in Pescadero. What are the various points of view that a photographer can take when photographing a subject such as a house? How does that point of view change depending on the purpose of the photograph?

AIRED: December 15, 2019 | 0:31:29
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TRANSCRIPT

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Welcome to the ALL ARTS Vault.

I'm Shanelle Gabriel.

The Vault is the place to go for special access

to all things arts,

so we're going to go into the archives

to uncover some of our greatest gems

and share these programs with you

as they would've been seen decades ago

when they first aired.

Today, we're presenting the third part

in our five-part series from 1960,

featuring American photographer Ansel Adams.

In this unique episode titled "Points of View,"

you'll watch as Adams brings his singular perspective

to photographing a single ranch house in Pescadero.

What are the various points of view

that a photographer can take

when photographing a subject such as a house?

How does that point of view change

depending on the purpose of the photograph?

Is the photograph for historical,

architectural, or anthropological purposes?

How can the artist use the language of photography

to achieve these various aims

through simply changing points of view?

You'll soon find out in this intimate portrait

of an artist at work.

We hope you enjoy.

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[ Waves crashing ]

[ Seagulls squawking ]

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Narrator: On the coast of Northern California

near Pescadero

stands an old house.

To the wealthy rancher who gave it as a wedding present

to his daughter and her groom,

Sea Captain Brown, it was a token of devotion.

To the casual traveler of today,

it appears as a nostalgic reminder of the past.

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To the family who live there now, it is a home.

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What happens when this house

becomes the subject of photography?

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Ansel Adams thinks of photography as a language...

...a language that is able to tell many things

in many different ways.

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The exposure has been made, and the finished image,

in this case, a Polaroid 4-by-5 print,

will soon be ready.

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This, in terms of photography,

is one way of saying White House Ranch, Pescadero,

but the vocabulary of the photographer must be able

to express the reality of this place in many ways.

Built in 1880, the old house has been well lived in,

and its inhabitants have left many traces of their occupancy.

Today, the upper story is unoccupied,

but many of the original fixtures throughout the house,

such as this classic newel post, recall its past elegance.

Some of them serve a different purpose now,

but the magic of the old place is still reflected

in many living touches.

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The Contreras family, who live here now,

came from the Mexican border town of Tecate in 1947.

Carlos is the oldest son, age 16.

Marcelino is 13 years old.

Like his older brother, he was born in Tecate.

So was Rachel, age 12.

But Mary was born in this house 10 years ago,

and so were Ramon, age 4, and Anna, 7.

Father Salu Contreras has lived and worked in Pescadero

for 12 years together with his wife, Ignacia,

and Grandmother Mary, her mother,

has come on a visit all the way from Tecate.

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White House Ranch is an old building now,

but its charm has not worn off.

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The photographer must be inquisitive

about the many aspects of his subject.

But the curiosity is certainly mutual.

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An architectural detail has been recorded.

This too could be called an architectural detail,

but through the language of photography,

it evokes a different response.

Photography is more than a mere record.

The camera can give as many interpretations

as the photographer is able to imagine,

and the subject appears in myriad ways,

more than any one approach could suggest.

As the purpose of an assignment changes,

so does the point of view.

If the house were to be photographed for the tax row,

a more distant camera position would be required

to include as much ground as possible.

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This picture comes as close to a mere record

as a photograph can get.

With the boundary line drawn in, it will be ready for filing.

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Photographing for a real-estate firm

would require still another point of view.

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A camera position must be found which shows the size

and structure of the house to best advantage.

Or better still, this photograph,

taken during the height of the growing season,

helps to emphasize the lush vegetation

and the beautiful old trees.

To a historian of Victorian architecture,

this head-on shot would be of particular interest

as would a picture of the north facade with its additions

and mixed architectural styles.

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Or the historian might want to come in for an even closer

look at ornamental details such as these.

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By now, there is evidence of the photographer's presence

everywhere,

but during his frequent visits,

some of the novelty has worn off...

...and life resumes its normal pace.

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Father goes off to work.

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Ramon and Anna stay behind

while the older children go to school

and come back home.

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The photographic possibilities are far from exhausted.

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Different problems call for different cameras.

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Details such as these will be of special interest

to interior decorators in search of handsome, old fixtures.

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The Contreras family lives in great simplicity

but with warmth and dignity.

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And relations with the photographer

quickly assume the same character.

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The photographer can count on all kinds of help.

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The point of view of the sociologist,

the photo reporter or documentarian

is conditioned by his human perception.

He must tell the story of a situation,

the main house where the Contreras family lives...

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...the furnishings...

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...and the way the family supplements its living...

...the children that play...

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...and coming home from school.

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John Grierson once wrote,

"The documentary idea demands no more than

that the affairs of our time shall be shown in any fashion

which strikes the imagination

and makes observation a little richer than it was.

It is the basic tenant of documentary work

that the primary search is not for beauty

but for the fact of the matter

and that in the fact of the matter

is the only path to beauty that will not soon wear down."

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Ansel Adams' approach reflects

his sense of obligation towards the subject.

He feels that, in the hands of the mature photographer,

the most successful images are those which contain

the greatest intensity of statement,

composition, and human significance.

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Where the photo documentarian strives for integrity

and intensity of statement, the ethnologist's main interest

must be a clear rendition of his subject's features.

His purpose is best served by head-on portraits

and profiles such as these.

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An artificial setup such as this is far removed

from a search for the fact of the matter.

It was contrived for strictly pictorial effects.

Some may read a surrealist meaning into the print.

Others will call it a mere gimmick or salon photography.

The interest of the salonist centers mainly on the surface

of things, the quaint angle, the odd moment,

the cute picture.

The photo poet has a different approach.

He establishes an intensely personal relation

to the reality of the house --

its shape, its surroundings, the people who live in it.

He can capture the truth of his subject

best through equivalence,

composition, scale, subtleties of tonal values.

A mere record or a gimmick are of no value to him.

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The image he takes adds his own awareness

to the reality of the house.

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Through his eyes, the viewer is enriched

and able to see the subject

in many ways he may not have perceived on his own.

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An old porch screen becomes the object of subtle exploration.

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Looking closer and closer into an ordinary object

such as weathered paint around an old window

reveals exciting patterns and textures.

Semiabstract subject matter such as this

becomes an actual transcription of reality.

It has, Ansel Adams feels,

the magnificent quality of meaning nothing

except what it evokes in the artist's own consciousness

and in the spectator's subjective reaction.

Like the composer,

the photographer has many instruments at his disposal.

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And like the musician, a thorough mastery of techniques

enables him to perform with accuracy

and spontaneous insight.

In his daybooks, Edward Weston wrote,

"One does not think during creative work

any more than one thinks when driving a car,

but one has a background of years,

learning, unlearning, success, failure, dreaming,

thinking, experience, all this, then the moment of creation,

the focusing of all into the moment."

Ansel Adams' approach to photography

transcends a mere desire for self-expression.

Adams: The photographer who experiences more than

the surface excitement of the moment

and succeeds in conveying his deeper

understanding through his work opens another

and far more resonant world for the spectator.

What he achieves is not so much

the intensification of the inner world of the spectator.

The photographer, instead of being just an informer,

becomes a catalyst of consummate power.

Here lies, I believe, a suggestion

for a prime definition of art

and especially of the art of photography.

Those photographers who explore, distill and interpret

the intangible essences of the world

can truly be called photo poets.

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Narrator: Art does not reproduce the visible.

Rather, it makes visible.

The artist can give as many interpretations

as he is able to perceive.

They all depend on his point of view.

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This is National Educational Television.

Like a composer,

a photographer has many instruments at their disposal.

It's an apt comparison from Ansel Adams,

and as you've seen in this episode of

"Photography - The Incisive Art,"

the photographer has quite a few instruments at his disposal.

While primarily known as a landscape photographer,

it's quite illuminating to see

Adams working in different modes of image making

that go beyond typical landscapes

as well as being able to draw such a wealth of inspiration

from the same shooting location.

We hope you've enjoyed this unique point of view

from the ALL ARTS Vault.

See you next time.

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