Reflection on “Notes from N.Y. Nov. 1922”


As I am following the advice by Ansel Adams as quoted in my last post, I am basically reacting to what I read in Edward Weston’s daybooks (I try to read one entry each day and reflect on that). Sometimes it is directly related to what I am reading, sometimes I just ramble on about what popped up in my mind after having read the entry.

Today the entry was mainly about meeting Alfred Stieglitz in New York in 1922. There were some remarkable things Stieglitz said and altogether it reads like both handled it quite well. There was some praise from Stieglitz (and O’Keeffe) about the prints Weston brought, but not only praise. Although Weston seemed to handle the criticism very well (as we all should, as just praise might lead to feeling too comfortable at where you are and might keep you from pushing it further).

“I took my work to show Stieglitz. He laid it open to attack, and then discarded print after print, prints I loved. Yet I am happy, for I gained in strength, in fact strengthened my own opinion. I was ripe to change, was changing, yes changed, when I went to New York. I had shown my portfolio of photographs all over New York, had been showered with praise, which meant very little to me, for all the time I knew I was showing my past.” – Edward Weston

I was quite impressed by something Stieglitz said about how he broke technical rules for emotional reasons: “I have put my lens a foot form the sitter’s face because I thought when talking intimately one doesn’t stand ten feet away …” But let me put that in context:

“The struggle is to live an express life untouched by the ideas of neighbors and friends. After all we only know what we feel, and I have been unafraid to say what I feel. You see that in my work. I have broken every photographic law, optics included. I have put my lens a foot from sitter’s face because I thought when talking intimately one doesn’t stand ten feet away; and knowing that it takes time to get deep into the very innermost nature of matter, I have given exposures of several minutes stopped way down. You see my prints, the eye is able to wander all over them, finding satisfaction in every portion, the ear is given as much consideration as the nose, but it is a task, this desire to obtain detail and simplification at the same time.” – Alfred Stieglitz

Emotion comes before technicalities. Of course. It is why I decided to not frame my images anymore and to do nothing bigger than 13×19. So there is a chance for an intimate relationship to form between the viewer and the print. Is it possible that the size might overwhelm you? That a huge print might hide some imperfections even better than a small one? A huge print might intimidate you, might suggest greatness just because of size.

I also liked something Stieglitz mentioned about his attitude towards photography:

“A maximum of detail with a maximum of simplification.” – Alfred Stieglitz

That quote has been in my head all day. Even when I wasn’t thinking about what it means, it just sat there and I felt it. How full of meaning it was and at the same time carried a promise of freedom and fulfillment. I wonder how many months it will take for me to really take this in and understand it. Another one to be pondered is this:

“Nothing must be unconsidered, there must be complete release.” – Alfred Stieglitz

Of course this was about photography, but just consider what else this could be about …

One last bit Stieglitz left Weston with was “My last message to you is work, seek, experiment.” Which seems to be obvious, but can’t be repeated often enough along with assuring oneself that it really is that simple. It doesn’t seem that hard if you remember that you are a photographer, a human being, an artist (if you need that label) all the time. Every waking hour and maybe even in your dreams. Not only with camera in hand. I listen to photography-related podcasts while I drive, the last thing I read in bed at night is probably about photography and even if it isn’t, it is about some aspect of life and so at the end of the day, it will be about feelings and that means (for me) photography. Immerse yourself in photography in every way you can think of and eventually everything will fall into place. You do, see, feel, hear something and remember something else you did, saw, felt, heard maybe years ago and you can actually can hear it click as it finally makes sense even though at the time you might not have had the slightest idea what it was all about.

I leave you with an anecdote about something that happened in the summer of ’18:

I had been working with Harold Davis since September of ’17 when I offered to send him a print as a token of my gratitude for everything he had done for me. Here is what he wrote back:

“Hi Holger.

The thought is very much appreciated.

When I was a young photographer in my twenties I was privileged to meet Ansel Adams at his home in Carmel Highlands along the Big Sur Coast of California. Ansel spent quite a bit of time with me, we spent some time together, he looked at many of my prints, showed me his darkroom, and we drank a bottle of whiskey together. Ansel was already very famous at that point, and in his seventies. We kept in touch, he invited me to a museum opening of his in New York (where I was living), and so on.

At some point in the next year I mailed him a couple of 20X24 prints I had made, thinking they would be a gift and a way to say Thank you. Ansel had an assistant mail them back to me, carefully packed, with a note thanking me for the thought, and saying he really didn’t have a good way to store all the work he was sent, and that he was sure I would have use for my own work better than he did.

So this was a good learning experience for me…”

It felt like the circle was complete and I was well on my way to be able to not just call Harold a mentor, but my friend. Which he still is today.

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