In case you haven’t seen it yet, Ansel Adams — A Documentary Film (2002) by PBS on the life of Ansel Adams is as good as it gets. Watch it. Take your time for this 83-minute documentary. But what I want to draw your attention to is the part starting at the 1:06:07 timemark — how Ansel Adams was an early Photoshopper. Seriously. He manipulated his work tremendously in the darkroom, pre-digital’s post-processing.
Have you ever heard different Mozart interpretations sounding exactly the same? Not possible. As in photography: not two photographs are the same. It all depends on the eye, equipment and technique of the photographer. The print, says Adams, is the equivalent of the conductor’s performance. The same piece of Mozart is performed differently. Ansel Adams, we learn, “performed his own negatives differently.”
Prints were very important to him to convey his inner feelings about a subject/object. Every printing experience was a new rebirth of the image. Sometimes he printed things very somber, sometimes light and airy.
If he were to just print his photos straight, some would be pretty boring, explains the narrator. So darken the sky and give it a lot of mood to accentuate the drama. Dodging and burning? Those are words of the vocabulary of master darkroom printer Ansel Adams. Sometimes it would take him a day before he would get one print.