on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

The Straight Handicap

Purism, in the sense of rigid abstention from any control, is ridiculous

Guy Tal

Professional photographic artist, author and speaker working primarily in the Western US.



Our predilection for the straight photography is perhaps a natural one. Certainly, pre-visualization with a prescribed darkroom ritual is the most widely practiced approach in photography today. The popular expression taking a picture implies this approach. I do not wish to minimize the importance placed on the act of seeing which this approach requires. I do, however feel that the general attitude of unquestioning acceptance . . . which this approach requires, has kept us from important visual discoveries and insights.~ Jerry Uelsmann

Years ago, when leading a photography workshop in California,

Adams has indicated in numerous writings that he did not feel himself beholden to the tenets of straight photography. Ironically, he came to be characterised as a straight photographer (despite his own claims and against historical contradictions) largely due to the biased writings of a few historians...
I pointed out to my group the subjects of some of Ansel Adams’s iconic photographs—Lone Pine Peak, Mount Williamson, Manzanar. “You know that Adams manipulated his prints,” quipped one of the workshop participants in a derisive tone as if revealing a little-known sinister conspiracy. “Who doesn’t know that?” I asked the group jokingly. The participant continued, still in a disdainful voice, “most people think Adams was a straight photographer.” I was glad to learn that no one in my group shared (or would admit to sharing) that mistaken belief. I was also glad for the opportunity to have a “teachable moment.” I gathered the group to discuss the history of straight photography and why we today may want to consider moving beyond it.

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