My AA Days

Similarity is the sincerest form of flattery

I was so serious!

After a few years playing around with cameras I declared myself an artist and went about the joyous effort of copying my photographic heroes. I had yet to figure out that I was not them, that they lived in entirely different times, that what they did was to break new ground in uncharted territory.

I saw several prints by the famous landscape photographer Ansel Adams. I was inspired, actually beyond inspired. I wanted to see like Adams, I wanted to print like Adams. So I studied him. I was an AA disciple.

I bought all Adams’ books: The Camera, then The Negative, and The Print, and others. I bought his autobiography. My office at work chipped in and bought me the hardcover Yosemite and the Range of Light. It was an early printing, still very valuable today.

I studied Fred Picker’s Zone VI Workshop. I learned the Zone System of black and white photography. I went through all the training I could from books and experimentation. I was disciplined so I could do well being self-taught.

I wore out friends and family who could not understand why a simple family snapshot should be taken by a wooden 4×5 view camera. They endured my craziness.

I made treks to Yosemite. Figuratively speaking, I set up my tripod in Ansel’s tripod holes. It was a grand time!

Then one day something happened that changed my life forever. I was delivered from the mountain top.

I’ve told the story about hiking with my big, honkin’ 4×5 view camera, 25 pounds more of film holders, light meter, 10 pound tripod (I recently purchased a much lighter one), and other accessories. I’ll retell it briefly.

I was hiking in the north Georgia mountains. My mission was a set of waterfalls. I came to a 7 or 8 foot deep ditch with a stream flowing through it. To cross the gully, I had to navigate a single log bridge, heel to toe, or shimmy along. Too far to sling my beautiful equipment, too far and too dangerous to put everything on my back and cross the log, and too deep to climb down and up it’s sheer, wet dirt and underbrush covered walls. No left turn, no right turn, no place to go.

And I had diarrhea! I gave up, turned around, and dejectedly, I returned home.

I sold all my large format stuff after that, gave thanks for all that Adams and Picker had taught me, swore allegiance to Galen Rowell and actually went to one of his seminars, and ever since then I’ve been a devotee of light and small cameras when I photograph anything.

So these photographs from my 4×5 AA days are all I think are even worth looking at. The one at the top is made from a 4×5 inch Polaroid negative. Really a cool product. The ones below are visually self explanatory.

There is something very magical about large format – 4×5 inch and larger negatives and slides. The tones progress like heavy cream, all smooth and no blotches. They will make you forget the trouble you went through to get them.

However, there is also something more immediate and relational in small format cameras, both film and digital. Being very impatient and relational, it fits me. Find something that fits.


Technical Data: If you check the technical data from the images, they will all say the camera is a Nikon D7500. That is the camera I used to “scan” the negative. The actual camera for all 4×5 inch negatives was a cherry wood, 4×5 view camera. Lens, I recall was either a 150mm or 210 mm lens. I don’t recall the brand. Film for all except the image at the top was Kodak Tri-X.

(All images in all my blogs are owned by me, William D. Hunton. I pay my copyright dues, do my best to obey the law, and I keep all rights to all images I make to myself. You do not have the right to copy or use them for anything. My apology if this statement troubles you.)

#LargeFormatPhotography #Photography #ZoneSystemPhotography

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