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Matinee: 'Sharing The Light' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

2 June 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 152nd in our series of Saturday matinees today: Sharing the Light.

This seven-minute film is the story of three photographers who may be said to have formed a school of photography that traverses three generations.

The first is Ansel Adams. He established the school with his workshops in Yosemite where he taught the Zone System of placing the tones nature provides on the more limited range film offers for printing on the even more restricted range of photographic paper.

The second photographer is Bob Kolbrener who, as a young man, studied with Adams at his workshops and eventually joined them as a teacher before establishing his own career in the fine art.

The third photographer is Nolan Beck, who is Kolbrener's apprentice, learning view camera photography and fine art photographic printing from a master.

All three share an affinity for the high-contrast, monochromatic Yosemite image popularized by Adams. And in that sense they have kept the Yosemite franchise going.

But there's a lot more going on here than that.

Adams, for his part, shot a surprising variety of subjects. He was, after all, a commercial photographer. And that meant doing product shots and portraits, working in (shutter the thought) a studio.

He also shot color, most famously for Kodak's gigantic Colorama panoramas, and Polaroids.

Kolbrener, for his part, realized early on that there weren't enough Yosemite subjects to go around, so he started a series on road signs that feature a monochromatic background with signage in color.

He also ran a photographic studio with his wife Sharon, who appears in his nudes. He talks about the range of subjects that interest him in this video:

And Beck admits in the film that he has no idea what to shoot. In fact, Kolbrener advises him to shoot everything. Eventually he'll narrow his interest to a few things he really loves to shoot.

Kolbrener laughs that he'd love to come back in 50 years to see what Beck is up to. He can't imagine. And, he admits, he envies that.

So the light they share isn't just the Yosemite fine art print franchise. It's a love of slow photography.

That, Beck says, means taking your time and thinking about what you're doing. Something a view camera, which is nothing if not entirely manual, demands. We see him on the rocks above the ocean, angling the legs of his tripod, slipping the 8x10 view camera onto the head, working the lens and film planes, slipping under the hood.

But, he adds, he can come away with nothing after a day out with the camera and still call it a good day of photography.

And, as Kolbrener suggests, what happens in the field, stays in the field. Once he gets in the darkroom, where he has always been excited to go in his 50-year career, another challenge takes place. He marshals the skills of an expert photographic printer to work an image. He won't be able to tell until he's mounted the print what he's been able to accomplish.

If you had any doubts, these guys are not digital chimpers. What they revel in is the multi-stage process of film photography, which can seem like a novel compared to the tweet of digital photography.

But there are lessons here for the digital photographer as well.

The simple equivalent formula? Shoot Raw. Revisit your captures in an image editor. Spend some time manipulating them. And print them. Large. Then frame them and live with them a while.

In short, slow down.

The interesting thing about that approach is how it affects what you subsequently shoot. Or decide not to shoot.

"It's not what you photography," Kolbrener says, after observing that everything on the planet has been photographed. "It's how you see it."

That's the light we can all share.

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