Friday, May 13, 2011

Charles Cramer

"Moon, Jeffrey Pine, Sentenial Dome, Yosemite"

"Spring Flood, Nevada Fall, Yosemite"

"Bare Trees, Red Leaves, Arcadia, Maine"

"Waves, Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona"

"Dawn, Remarkable Rocks, Australia, 1981"

"Reflections, Tuolumne River, Glen Aulin, Yosemite"

"Paria Wall, Paria National Wilderness Area, Utah"

I am most grateful to Charles Cramer for his kind permission to reproduce his work here on my blog.

Charles Cramer's own story:

Just before leaving for two years of graduate piano study at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, I visited Yosemite National Park for the first time. This was my first real camping trip—and it was a revelation. In the tiny practice rooms at Eastman, I kept dreaming of the wide-open spaces of the Sierra. George Eastman, the founder of the Eastman School of Music, also founded a company named Kodak, which was headquartered in Rochester. Thus, the public library there had a superb photography section. This was where I searched for Yosemite books, and discovered Ansel Adams. Adams himself trained as a pianist, and later turned to photography. I had spent many hours in my father's darkroom, and enjoyed making "happy-snap" prints of friends. But I never realized that photography could also be an art form.

Another revelation was a trip a few years later to the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. With a pair of white gloves, one was free to look through boxes of prints by masters like Edward Weston, Jerry Uelsmann, and Ansel Adams. I especially remember holding in my hands the prints from Ansel's Portfolio Five. I had never seen prints like these before—so brilliant that I felt I needed sunglasses! I wanted to be able to make prints like this, prints that glowed from within.

Music and Photography

Adams described printmaking in musical terms: "the negative is the score, and the print the performance." I immediately understood the analogy. Playing classical piano involves starting with a score (often hundreds of years old), and trying to bring it to life. Imagination is important, as there are countless decisions about how best to imbue these notes with emotion. It's the same thing in making a photographic print.... There are many choices in shaping the image into its strongest and most compelling presentation.

There does seem to be some connection between music and photography. You see it with George Eastman, and with many contemporary masters like Paul Caponigro, Don Worth, Huntington Witherill and others. Although I didn't have what it took to be a concert pianist, I still enjoy playing, and have given recitals at the homes of Don Worth and, a year after Ansel's death, Virginia Adams.

Print Making

I originally started making black & white prints, but was soon drawn to experiment with color. Color printing in the late '70s was fairly primitive, but there was one process with a mythical reputation that offered tremendous control—dye transfer. I had no idea how all-consuming making dye transfer prints would be! To create one print required the precise exposure and development of approximately twelve sheets of film. The colors are literally disassembled into B&W, and then reassembled in a process akin to silk-screening. With all the steps involved, it offered tremendous control—but also the possibility for things to go terribly wrong. I labored mightily for more than fifteen years with dye transfer. When all the planets aligned, a beautiful print could emerge. But you didn't know how it would look until the final step of "rolling" out a print. I go into more detail on the joys and frequent sorrows of dye transfer printing on this page, making a dye transfer print.

I've spent the majority of my time in photography learning all I can to create beautiful prints. Prints that are brilliant (sunglasses optional), and prints that are more subtle and quiet. Making prints has been my obsession.

The Ansel Adams Gallery

When I took my first Ansel Adams workshop in 1977, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine they would one day sell my prints. But, in 1982, the gallery took a few of my prints on consignment. It wasn't until ten years later that I finally had a solo show, and we're now up to fifteen, with another show in April of 2008. I also started teaching for the venerable Ansel Adams Gallery Workshop Program in 1987, with a class on dye transfer printing. During this weekend workshop, we chose one transparency from one student, and at the end of the workshop had one finished print (that usually wasn't too exciting...). Nowadays, during the digital printing workshops I teach for the gallery, each student can produce up to ten prints, and they're usually very exciting!

The Big Revolution - Digital Print Making

One of the students in my dye transfer workshop of 1989 was Bill Atkinson, who eventually introduced me to making prints digitally. Bill knew in 1989 that there had to be a better way to make prints, but it took until around 1996 (with the invention of the "Lightjet" digital enlarger) for all the pieces to come together. There was a steep learning curve, with scanning and Photoshop, but it soon became clear that digital allowed ultimate control over the final print—I'm convinced Ansel would be pleased! I'm proud to say that my image "Snow-covered Trees, El Capitan" was the first digital print the Ansel Adams gallery sold, back in 1997. We tried not to say the "D" word (digital) back then, but digital printing is now almost universally accepted. Even though some people believe "they don't make them like they used to", I can now make prints that are sharper, last longer, and with more accurate colors than I ever could with the dye transfer process. Viva La Revolución!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Carleton Watkins

"Rock Bluffs," Columbia River, Oregon, ca. 1881-83

"Buckeye Tree," California, ca. 1872-78

"Yosemite Falls," ca. 1878-81

"Coast View, No. 1," 1863

"Yosemite Valley," 1865

"Golden Gate from Telegraph Hill," 1868

Carlton Watkins Biography from The Phoebe A.Hearst Museum of Anthropology:

Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916), while neglected after his death, has recently been rediscovered as one of the finest photographers of 19th century America. Traveling from his home in up-state New York, Watkins arrived in San Francisco in 1851. After three years as apprentice in a daguerreotype studio, in 1857 he opened his own studio, which he operated for almost fifty years. In 1861, on his first trip to Yosemite, he made the largest photos yet taken in California (18 x 22 inch mammoth plates). These pictures were influential in influencing Congress to preserve Yosemite as a park in 1864. From the 1860s through the early 1880s, Watkins served as photographer for several expeditions of the California State Geological Surveys. In 1875 he went bankrupt, losing his studio and its contents; the following year he began a "New Series of Pacific Coast Views," by rephotographing his favorite sites.

During decades of award-winning work throughout the west, Watkins photographed mines, farms, railroads, ports, cities, missions, ruins, estates, and natural landforms. Compared to some of his colleagues, he took very few photographs of Native American scenes, with the principal exception of the ruins at Casa Grande, Arizona. After more than a decade of ill-health, Watkins again suffered the loss of his entire studio contents, this time due to the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Seriously unbalanced, Watkins was committed to the Napa State Hospital for the Insane in 1910, where he died.

Phoebe Hearst was a major collector of Watkins' work. In 1894, she hired the photographer to document her estate in Pleasanton, but ill-health caused Watkins to leave the commission unfinished after a year of work. Her 140 Watkins pictures in the Hearst Museum form the core of a collection of about 400 photographs that she donated in 1904 (including those of O'Sullivan, Jackson, Hillers, and Beato).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Frank Eugene

"Master Frank Jefferson," 1910

"Alfred Stieglitz," 1909

"Miss Gladys Lawrence, The Seashell," 1910

"The Horse"

"Rebecca," 1910

"Miss Gene W."

Frank Eugene Biography from Wikipedia:

Eugene was born in New York City as Frank Eugene Smith. His father was Frederick Smith, a German baker who changed his last name from Schmid after moving to America in the late 1850s. His mother was Hermine Selinger Smith, a singer who performed in local German beer halls and theaters.

About 1880 Eugene began to photograph for amusement, possibly while he was attending the City College of New York.

In 1886 he moved to Munich in order to attends the Bayrische Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts). He studied drawing and stage design. After he graduated he started a career as a theatrical portraitist, drawing portraits of actors and actresses. He continued his interest in photography, although little is known of his teachers or influences.

He returned to the United States, and in 1899 he exhibited photographs at the Camera Club in New York under name Frank Eugene. The critic Sadakichi Hartmann wrote a review of the show, saying “It is the first time that a truly artistic temperament, a painter of generally recognized accomplishments and ability asserts itself in American photography.”

A year later he was elected to The Linked Ring, and fourteen of his prints were shown that year in a major London exhibition. Already at this stage in his career he had developed a highly distinctive style that was influenced by his training as a painter. He assertively manipulated his negatives with both scratches and brush strokes, creating prints that had the appearance of a blend between painting and photography. When his prints were shown at the Camera Club in New York, one reviewer commented that his work was "unphotographic photography."

In the summer of 1900 an entire issue of Camera Notes was devoted to his art, an honor accorded only a few other photographers. In late 1902 Eugene becomes a founder of the Photo-Secession and a member of its governing council.

In 1906 Eugene moved permanently to Germany. He was recognized there both as a painter and a photographer, but initially he worked primarily with prominent painters such as Fritz von Uhde, Hendrik Heyligers, Willi Geiger, and Franz Roh. He photographed many of these and other artists at the same time. He also designed tapestries that he used as backgrounds in his photographs.

A year later he became a lecturer on pictorial photography at Munich’s Lehr-und Versuchs-anstalt fur Photo graphie und Reproduktions-technik (Teaching and Research Institute for Photography and the Reproductive Processes). At this point, photography rather than painting became his primary interest. He experimented with the new color process of  Autochromes, and three of his color prints are exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz's Photo-Session Galleries in New York.

In 1909 two more of his gravures were published in Camera Work, No. 25 (January).

In 1910 twenty-seven of his photographs were exhibited at a major exhibition in Buffalo, New York. The catalog for this show described Eugene as the first photographer to make successful platinum prints on Japan tissue. Ten more of his gravures published in Camera Work, No.30 (April), and fourteen additional images appear in No.31 (July).

More than any other photographer of the early 20th century, Eugene was recognized as the master of the manipulated image. Photographic historian Weston Naef described his style this way:" The very boldness with which Eugene manipulated the negative by scratching and painting forced even those with strong sympathy for the purist line of thinking like White, Day and Stieglitz to admire Eugene's particular touch...[he] created a new syntax for the photographic vocabularity, for no one before him had hand-worked negatives with such painterly intentions and a skill unsurpassed by his successors."

In 1913 he was appointed Royal Professor of Pictorial Photography by the Royal Academy of the Graphic Arts of Leipzig. This professorship, created especially for Eugene, is the first chair for pictorial photography anywhere in the world.

Two years later Eugene gave up his American citizenship and became a citizen of Germany. He continued teaching for many years and was head of the photography department at the Royal Academy until it closed in 1927.

Eugene died of heart failure in Munich in 1936.