Masters of black-and-white on exhibit at Kimball Art Center
Photographer Carolyn Guild remembers her "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" moment. She is, of course, referring to the most iconic image of the American Southwest that famously almost didn't happen.
American photography master Ansel Adams, on assignment for the Department of the Interior, happened upon the tiny town Hernandez just as the sun was setting and the moon rising. He pulled his car over to the side of the road, realizing that the sunlight illuminating the cemetery crosses in the foreground would be gone in seconds.
Adams, who couldn't find his exposure meter in the equipment scramble, estimated the setting as he set up his large-format camera. He squeezed the shutter release, and as he prepared for a second shot, the amazing light was gone. That's how, in one attempt, the most famous photograph of the American Southwest was created.
In 2005, before Guild had read much about Adams or heard the story of Hernandez, she drove from her cabin in Big Cottonwood Canyon on a winter day to Bryce Canyon National Park to get a photo of a full moon over the haunting hoodoos rock formation.
She remembers her disappointment that night. "The clouds moved in, covering the moon. Four or five other photographers, who were there for it, left."
But Guild stayed in the cold and decided to do a 20-second time exposure of the landscape and moon.
"It lit the whole valley up," she says of the effect on the print. And the moon, because of the clouds and the long exposure, appears ethereal. Her "Moonrise over Bryce Canyon" went on to win prizes and establish her reputation as a landscape photographer.
Guild's work is displayed at a gallery in the Kimball Art Center in Park City through January 12. To her delight, her photographs are just steps away from an extensive exhibit of the early work of Adams.
The dual exhibit provides lovers of landscape photography, particularly those entranced by the gray scales of black-and-white photography, an opportunity to compare and contrast the work of Adams, who used large negatives and smelly chemicals, to that of Guild, who uses the latest digital technology.
Guild says she adheres to the artistic ethics of Adams, who unapologetically manipulated photographs in the development and printing processes. "I don't do anything digitally that I couldn't do in a darkroom," she said, before adding: "Ansel Adams would have embraced Photoshop more than I do."
It's a good point, as Adams famously told students: "You don't take a photograph, you make it."
Much, indeed, is similar between the work of "the poet of the gray spectrum" and his digital offspring. Guild, like Adams, is convinced of the power of black and white images, rather than color photography, in capturing the grandeur and mystery of great American landscapes.
"Black and white is more sensual," Guild says. "There's no color to attract or distract your eye. And you can't depend on some pretty colors to make [a photograph] work. It's the sensual lines, shadows, highlights and all the tones in between that make it timeless."
Adams himself once said: "I am more than ever convinced that the only possible way to interpret the scenes hereabout is through an impressionistic vision. A cold material representation gives one no conception whatever of the great size and distances of these mountains."
Guild also believes in Adams' commitment to environmentalism. "What we don't take care of will be lost forever," she says. "Yes, we need places to live. But we don't need to be so greedy."
And like Adams, she risks criticism for creating romanticized landscapes, devoid of humans, let alone any evidence of development and destruction in wild places. "I chose not to [take photos of environmental destruction]," Guild says. "I chose to show beauty."
That's her artistic choice, although she says she supports the work of photographers who do document environmental devastation. "Together, we make a team. If I can jog one person's conscience about the environment it's all about education."
As Adams responded to his critics: "To the complaint, 'There are no people in these photographs,' I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer."
Iconic images in black and white
Carolyn Guild's "Affirmations of Spirit," and Ansel Adams' "Early Work" now on exhibit at the Kimball Art Center, 638 Park Ave., Park City. For information, call 435-649-8882 or visit www. kimballartcenter.org
What they used
Ansel Adams • 8 x 10 view camera, Cooke Triple-Convertible lens, Wratten No. 15 (G) filter.
Carolyn Guild • Nikon D3x digital camera.