ALL ARTS Vault Selects


Ansel Adams: Professional Photography

Join us on the ALL ARTS Vault as Ansel Adams gives you an introduction as to how photographers may have made a living in the 1960s, from working in portraiture, to advertising, to documentary photography. As well as hearing from Adams himself, you’ll also see terrific footage of photographer Milton Halberstadt, a giant in the field of commercial photography and advertising design.

AIRED: December 21, 2019 | 0:31:48


Welcome to the ALL ARTS Vault.

I'm Shanelle Gabriel.

The Vault is a place to go for special access

to all things arts,

so we're going into the archives

to uncover some of our greatest gems

and share these programs with you

as they would have been seen decades ago

when they first aired.

Today, we're presenting the fourth part

in our five-part series from 1960

featuring American photographer Ansel Adams.

In this educational episode titled

"Professional Photography,"

you'll have Adams as your guide as you get an introduction

as to how photographers may have made a living in the 1960s

from working in portraiture to advertising

to documentary photography.

As well as hearing from Adams himself,

you'll also see terrific footage of photographer

Milton Halberstadt,

a giant in the field of commercial photography

and advertising design.

And in one of the most eye-opening sequences

of this episode,

you'll get a narrated walk-through

of Eugene Smith's extraordinary photo essay,

"Nurse Midwife."

These photographs featuring the South Carolina nurse midwife,

Maude E. Callen,

were originally published in Life Magazine in 1951.

They opened many a reader's eyes

to a world previously unknown to them

as well as speaking to the artistic

and visceral nature of the photo-essay form.

We hope you enjoy this episode

of "Photography - The Incisive Art."





Adams: I've often said that photography is a language,

and, like any spoken or written language,

can describe an endless number of things,

situations, styles, and so on.

In my own work, I would classify myself

as both professional and amateur

because the work that does not reflect

the two amateur character

is usually rather dead and lifeless,

empty of feeling or spirit.

The word "amateur" comes from basic terms

meaning love or loving, and it is perfectly possible

for the most serious professional photographer

to be also an amateur in the true meaning of the word.

I do a great deal of writing, both of articles and reports,

and I have a lot of correspondence

with other photographers who are constantly writing in

on all kinds of matters technical and aesthetic.

And in general correspondence,

I find myself doing a great deal of work

at the typewriter which annoys my friends

and wears out the typewriter ribbons,

but as a rule, most of the work is all part of the whole clause.

In any art you are in up to your ears,

and I would say that's my case.

The division of time and photography

is rather simply stated

that perhaps three quarters of the time

is what is concerned with spelling the project

and trying to visualize the images and functions,

and what is quite surprising to many people

is that there is not too much time spent

in actual shooting.

Of course it depends on the type of work.

The newspeople undoubtedly spend most of their time in the field

whereas serious professionals, especially in advertising,

may spend enormous amount of time

in consultation with the agents

and the art directors and stylists and so on.

But in my particular case,

I would say that about 75 percent is thinking

and planning and 25 percent is actually shooting and lab work,

and of course added to that as a further complication

is the amount of time spent in travel.



I do very little regular commercial work,

but I do recall my first experience

which was rather remarkable as it was the first example

I had ever come across of deception by convention.

The problem was to photograph raisin bread and of course

to show the luscious quality of glistening raisins.

The client had brought loaves of very fine grained sandwich bread

and loaves of ordinary raisin bread, and with tweezers,

extract little pieces of the dough

from the cut surface of the sandwich bread

and carefully inserted the raisins

which he had plucked from the slices of raisin bread.

Now, this was rather remarkable to me because this was obviously

impossible to bake bread with raisins in it

and not get the, I understand they call the steam holes

that come from the heated moisture in the raisins.

And it was even more astonishing that this kind of work

would have been demanded by the client

because this picture was going into a baker's journal,

and you could assume that...

One would assume that bakers would know

what raisin bread really looked like.

I think the term "professional" covers all of us

who make our living from the practice of photography.

Narrator: This is, of course, a professional photograph,

as is this photograph of smoke crystals,

one of a series taken with the aid of the electron microscope.

Adams: I, myself, while I find them

extraordinarily interesting,

am not always able to read in any particular

aesthetic significance because the photographs are made

without selection or control in any way.

Narrator: This, too, is a professional photograph

made on assignment by Dorothea Lange.

Adams: Dorothea Lange is a very remarkable artist,

and she is able to combine the external

and the internal event to a very poignant,

moving degree, and her work,

while superficially is documentary in character,

it also contains a deep, poetic quality.

Narrator: A professional photograph

of yet a different kind --

a photograph of the Pleiades.

Adams: Some of the astronomical photographs

are amazingly exciting,

but again it is something that is beyond the real control

of the operator in the strict sense of the term.

Narrator: And finally, a professional photograph

taken on assignment for Life Magazine --

a photograph from Eugene Smith's "Nurse Midwife" series.

Adams: Eugene Smith's "Spanish Village" series

and his "Midwife" series are, in my opinion,

great milestones in the development of photography.




Narrator: Portraiture in professional photography varies

all the way from what Ansel Adams has called,

"The likeness business," to what he has termed,

"environmental portraiture."



Here, our subject for a portrait is Julie Orinsky,

a young San Francisco artist in the non-objective idiom.

Adams: I don't do very much portraiture,

but when I do work with a subject,

I'm primarily interested in the reaction

that I have from that subject at that particular time.

I don't have any formula that I'm conscious of.

I would like to treat every subject

as a completely individual case in every respect.

One of the most important aspects of portrait photography

is what I would call the environmental portrait

which doesn't mean that a lawyer

is photographed in front of law books

or a chemist in a chemical laboratory,

but that the subject is photographed in an environment

which conveys a mood or reinforces a mood

specifically related to that particular person.

That is distinctively determined by the photographers,

not a thing that you can cerebrate on.

It's all part of what we call "the equivalent statement."

Portraiture, to me, is a very specific branch of photography,

a rather dangerous one to monkey with

unless you really have the ability

to handle people in a creative and constructive way.

To me, a portrait is much more than a likeness,

and yet at the same time, I do not feel justified

in literally directing the subject

into attitudes and expressions

of which I would think would be appropriate.

I think it is the obligation of the photographer

to reveal the subject in terms of the subject himself.

We recognize people not only by facial configuration

but both the face and the personality through time.

And that is why the so-called candid photograph,

which is merely an aspect of a person in a short slice of time,

may be either a caricature or an exaggeration

or merely nothing as far as a basic revelation

of that person's character is concerned.

And in my own work, I frankly confess

that I prefer portraiture almost on the basis of sculpture.

What I mean by that is that the person's face in repose

will very often reveal far more of the character

and the individuality of the person

than any moment of time or any slice of time

taken out of this person's configurations in movement,

if we can use that term.

The concept of photography

as based on previsualization of the image

carries through all branches of the work.

You will have a certain visualization problem

with landscape,

and then of course when you get to portraiture,

you have the personality problem entering in.

You can see the ideal photograph in your mind's eye,

but you have the expression of your subject to contend with.

You have to accept the constantly changing mood

and aspect of the subject,

but I would say on the whole it would be rather futile

to attempt to interpret a photograph

without really knowing what you expected to get.

And you have a higher percentage of failure with portraiture

due to conditions entirely within the subject,

but all aspects of any art are, of course,

if satisfactorily carried through,

are always carried to the highest degree

that anyone can take them.

And we really can't be careless at any time or at any place.




We very often find a competition

in one person of two major directions in photography.

One is the purely creative,

and the other is that of the expedience and a necessity

to produce images to satisfy clients.

However, any balanced worker will realize that in both cases,

the craft must be of as high order as possible,

and certain adaptation must be made.

Here in San Francisco, we have an extraordinarily capable,

gifted professional and commercial photographer,

Mr. Milton Halberstadt,

who is very well-trained in the Bauhaus approach

and has an enormous inventive capacity

and a magnificent and flexible technique.

Advertising photography is extremely complex

and has many varied functions yet is designed not to mislead,

although of course some photographs do and,

I think, intentionally.

It is primarily, to my mind,

designed to clarify and to convince.

And there are many times when certain manipulations

of the subject and of lighting and compositional aspects

have to be applied in order to create a simulation of reality.

And one of the most important differences

in this field of professional photography lies in the fact

that we have to construct or contrive scenes and subjects

in order to convey the essential points

which the client wishes the photograph

to convey to the spectator.



There is another difference between the professional

and the advanced amateur which is this

that the professional has to adapt himself to the problems

and the projects and functions of his client.

He has to be able to handle the various assignments

that come to him whereas the more or less

independent amateur will pick and choose

with much more personal satisfaction and intensity,

and that is why it is very hard sometimes for people

who have practiced and worked entirely in the creative field

much as easel painters do to adapt themselves

to an externally presented problem.

The photography of nature, unmanipulated and simple,

is one thing, but in all kinds of advertising photography,

fashion, food,

so on, we do have problems of subject organization.

I use the word "contrivance" here not as a negative term

but as a term which colors the building of sets,

the use of varied lighting facilities,

the preparation of models, and so on.

I think that most of this work represents construction

and creation outside of the camera.

The camera then records what the photographer and the artist

produced before it,

and that's a very difference concept from the creation

of important and moving images entirely within the camera

because one must work with nature

rather than simple portraiture.

Any creative photographer in any field over the years

develops a vast resource of experience

which is safely tucked away in his subconscious

and drawn upon when required.

I like to think of this resource as being compared

to actual capital,

and at any moment when a picture problem presents itself,

he draws upon not the capital

but let's call the interest from this vast resource,

and then he puts back into his resource fund this new

and added experience.

It's very much like a musician.

He is performing a masterwork with great complexity

on the piano, for example,

and he cannot possibly think of every note

or even of every phrase as a disjointed thing.

It's a sum totaled expression of a basic concept.

Then we have this same problem in photography

which of course only experience can solve.

That is for the fund,

resource in everyone's mind and personality

which can be drawn upon

to supply the aesthetic and craft capabilities

at any given moment for any given subject.


What we call industrial photography is of course

a branch of professional photography,

and it includes everything from the very large

down to the very small in this mechanical civilization,

and even such spectacular, now obsolete objects

as this mechanical brain

from an old B-17 fire control unit

will present unlimited possibilities in composition,

resolution of the shapes and the forms

and the various metallic textures.

I had a recent assignment to do some photographs

of a rather spectacular new power plant.

Now, of course, the ideal approach would be to spend

quite a little time and making a survey

and allowing your unconscious mind

to help you in this visualization of pictures,

but in this particular case, there was not very much time,

and I had to make a rather quick survey.

And of course, as in most big factories and plants,

machinery, it involves chaos.

Forms are there,

very interesting and exciting vital forms

but is very difficult to isolate them on a very complex,

sometimes rather crummy background and environment.

The client in industrial photography

thinks he knows what he wants,

but it is very hard for a nonphotographer

to actually visualize the photograph,

and it's the job of the photographer to, more or less,

and in a kindly way, convince the client

that he himself must trust the photographer

to develop the theme once the theme is given to him.

It is very difficult, if not impossible,

for the client to photograph any industrial scene

or in any professional field without some kind of a program.

There is a kind of utility in merely

making a lot of photographs which the client says

he'll put together after the photographs are made.

You get the comparison in architecture

where architect people would be requested to design a house

without any knowledge of the site

or of the function of the structure

or the character of the people who are to live in it.

So a mixed group photographs of any one subject

may be brilliantly edited,

and there's enough of a good, exciting presentation.

But I believe it would be accepted

by all that a well-studied

and well-faced advanced program would be the most efficient

and most satisfactory approach in the long run.

In this particular case,

I concentrated on the large stacks

and made quite a symmetrical picture

trusting to the configurations of the sky behind it

to add different composition and variety.

We can have such things

as symmetry within a basic symmetrical structure,

and sometimes we achieve a strong and powerful effect

through the carefully controlled symmetry, unsymmetrical accents.



I think it is a common concept among the general public

that photo documentation or documentary photography,

as sometimes called, is confined to aspects of human misery.

This probably stems from photography's inherent capacity

to treat nostalgia as one of the dominant conditions.

There's one basic problem,

which I think affects all photographers,

and it has something to do with the invasion

of the privacy of the subject.

Yet some of the most moving photographs ever made

have been pictures made entirely unbeknown by the subject.

The subject was under conditions of intense emotions and stress,

but as long as there was dignity and reality

and truth involved in it, I believe it would be justified

in making such documentary images.

Now, to my mind,

one of the very greatest photographers of our time,

he can be called a photo journalist.

He might want to be called a photo documentarist,

or he might merely want to be called a photographer,

but I am referring to Gene Smith

whose incredible series of the "Spanish Village"

and of the "Midwife" are absolutely unsurpassed

in photography of any time and of any category.


Narrator: Gene Smith went to South Carolina

to record the story of a dedicated nurse and midwife,

Maude Callen.

Mrs. Callen drives 36,000 miles each year within her county

acting as doctor, dietitian, diagnostician, and friend

to some 10,000 people.

Maude's working day lasts 12 to 16 hours.

The only lie she permits herself

is her determined statement that she is not tired.

In Berkeley County, South Carolina,

on the edge of Hell Hole Swamp, a new baby is expected.

The child will need a warm crib.

Bottles of hot water wrapped in clean rags will do quite well.


Preparations for birth are simple.

The doctor is not a doctor but a nurse midwife,

Maude Callen, called to a cabin near Pineville late at night.

The mother, Alice, has been labor for some hours

but is resting now.

Nurse Maude has boiling water, clean rags, and Lysol ready.

She watches.

She waits.

Alice awakens and listens to the heartbeat

of her unborn child.



Labor starts again.

Alice begins to cry.

Her cries grow stronger, and soon a child is born.





A new day has begun.



Puddles in the road outside reflect the dull sky,

and Nurse Maude is free to drive to Pineville

where other patients will be waiting at her clinic.





Adams: Professional photography in any of its forms

has a vital part to play in our culture,

for essentially, it is a language,

a language to be spoken with clarity,

expression, and meaning.

Its most important criterion is integrity.





Narrator: This is National Educational Television.

As Ansel Adams says during this episode,

"Photography is a language,

and like any spoken or written language,

it can describe a tremendous number of things."

To be a professional photographer

means to take this language

and use it to describe an endless number of subjects,

whether those be new products for a magazine,

a portrait of an artist, or a photo-essay series.

As you've seen in this episode, the professional photographer

brings the same level of craft to their image making

regardless of the nature of the final product.

We hope you enjoyed this program from the ALL ARTS Vault.

See you next time.


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