Thursday, January 20, 2011
Q-and-A: Assistant to photographer Ansel Adams displays black-and-whites at Dallas gallery
Photographer Alan Ross calls his time spent with Ansel Adams "part connection, part ability, and part chutzpah." The interview is inspiring.
DALLAS Santa Fe resident Alan Ross was once the photographic assistant for famed photographer Ansel Adams, and today, he is the exclusive printer of Special Edition Ansel Adams negatives. Ross' photography exhibit opens January 20 at the Sun to Moon Gallery in Dallas.
Like his former mentor, Ross works in black and white. He believes in the power of film and darkroom over modern advances such as digital photography. Also like his mentor, Ross' work has achieved international acclaim, with photographs hanging in galleries and collections around the world. Pegasus News interviewed Ross and Sun to Moon gallery director Marilyn Miller to find out more about the opening.
PegNews: Mr. Ross, tell the readers about your work to be displayed in Dallas. Over what span of time were the photographs taken?
Ross: The span is 1968-2010 -- a mix of man-made and natural, with a couple of portraits thrown in. I've usually been pigeon-holed as a landscape photographer, but my visual interest has always been much more varied, including abstract studies and architectural details. At one point my three most popular images were a Yosemite Landscape, a still-life of an onion, and a nude. Sun To Moon is showing examples of this full range.
How did you come to work with Ansel Adams?
Ross: Part connection, part ability, and part chutzpah. Because of a chance opportunity just out of college (UC Berkeley, 1971) I landed a job as assistant in a top San Francisco advertising studio. The photographer, Hal Halberstadt, was a friend of Ansel's, and I met Adams briefly in Yosemite in 1972. My employer retired in 1973 and I wrote Ansel asking if he needed an assistant. He replied that he didn't at that time but that he would be happy to have me assist at various workshops the Ansel Adams Gallery was offering at that time. In 1974 he asked me if I would be interested in moving to Carmel and working for him full-time.
Do you have a favorite memory of working with Ansel Adams?
Ross: It was a constant delight. Ansel was one of the most even-tempered, hard-working, fascinating people I have ever met. Immensely good-natured with an infectious sense of humor. Never a dull moment, never a gloomy day.
How would you say Ansel Adams influenced your own work? Also, what is most different about your work and Ansel Adams’?
Ross: I would say he influenced it technically more than anything else -- and that mainly in printing. Because of having had two great mentors (Halberstadt and William Garnett -- who had three Guggenheim grants for his aerial photography!) I was already technically competent with my camera work -- but working with Ansel printing in the darkroom really spun my head around. Every movement of putting the light on to the paper was graceful and deliberate: He was completely in control.
Over your distinguished career in photography, do you have a favorite experience of your own that stands out in your memory?
Ross: Well, my two top images are tied to significant events in my life -- my Yosemite landscape Bridalveil Fall in Storm was made two or three days after Ansel asked me to work for him, and the Onion still-life was done a few days after my mother died. And working with Ansel was certainly cause for meeting some amazing people -- nearly every great living photographer came through the house at one time or another, Georgia O'Keeffe came for a week-long visit, Gerald and Betty Ford came for lunch just after the president left office.
Please tell us about your process. In this age of automation and digital photography, why work with film and darkroom?
Ross: I consider myself a classicist, but not a purist. I welcome the advances in digital imaging, but at least for the time being, the best digital "capture" can't begin to compare with the tonal scale and quality of a well done exposure on film. Digital is getting better every day, so that edge may fade in the future. At the same time, there is something completely tangible about holding a large full-scale negative -- there is no such thing as a handful of pixels!
Miller explains the process of making the Ross exhibit come to life:
PegNews: How many pieces will be displayed?
Miller: 25 Alan Ross photographs will be on display in our gallery space, with several additional prints in reserve. We will also have prints by our other photographers hanging in the back gallery.
How were the pieces for the exhibit chosen?
Miller: We sent a list of images that we loved from his portfolio to Alan, with flexibility for him to switch out as he saw fit. While Alan is best known for his exquisite landscapes, we also selected a number of his architectural and still life images. In fact, several of the prints in this exhibition will be the No. 1 print of those particular images, which will appeal to collectors.
What is the visitor experience like at the Sun to Moon gallery? What can people expect?
Miller: We joke about the mantra at Sun to Moon Gallery being “Wow, I’ve never seen photography like this before” because we hear it so much from visitors. We handle finely crafted photographic prints that are like jewels. Visitors can expect to see a wide variety of prints in many sizes and styles, from traditional color and black-and-white landscapes to handcrafted bromoil, encaustic, platinum/palladium over gold leaf prints, and more.
The Alan Ross “Black & White” exhibition will run from January 20 to March 5, 2011. Sun to Moon gallery hours are Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. A free opening reception with Ross will be held January 22 from 5–8 p.m.
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