Home > Yes/No > Score and Performance

Score and Performance

The Tetons and the Snake River, Ansel Adams.I had the good fortune recently to visit the Ansel Adams: At the Water’s Edge exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. In addition to being moved by the majesty and poignancy of the images presented, I enjoyed learning more about this pioneering artist’s approach to his medium. The wall text for the exhibit, coordinated by the museum’s curator of photography, Phillip Prodger, provides lots of meaningful context.

One particularly interesting note accompanied the large print of The Tetons and the Snake River from 1942:

“Adams famously likened negative and print to the score and performance in music. Because the negative contains all the information necessary to make a picture, he considered that the “score” of a photograph. And because printing in the darkroom requires interpretation that can vary according to the attitude of the printer, he considered that the “performance.” According to this idea, Adams changed the way he printed many of his negatives over time.”

Now, unless you’re a Photoshop user, you might not do much interpreting of your pictures these days; it’s so convenient to set your digital camera to automatic and let it do its thing. But this idea of score and performance struck me as relevant to something bigger than photography. I think it’s a nice way to think about the human capacity for change.

We all have the “negatives” we’re printed from: The inherited traits encoded into our DNA, the family systems we grew up in, our MBTI profiles and zodiac signs. But isn’t there an equal measure of “performance” that accounts for who we are? It seems to me that our ability to vary our interpretation of the encoded Self over time is what aspiration and choice are all about.

What attitude are you bringing to the darkroom lately?

  1. August 23, 2012 at 2:58 am

    I saw this exhibit at the PEM when I was back in June..incredible photography!! I also enjoyed the text that accompanied the exhibit. Enjoyed your sharing your insight with this!

    • August 23, 2012 at 8:21 am

      Thanks, Margaret! I didn’t know you were in town. It would have been nice to see you. I hope you have lots of people lined up for the coming visiting season.

  2. December 3, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    My wife and I went to this exhibition much later, in October. We are both from the west coast originally and met in San Francisco (where Adams grew up), so we sort of have those majestic images imprinted on us as well!

    Loved taking your class.

    Mark Jensen

    • December 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Great to meet you, Mark. I look forward to reading more of your poetry. What a lovely group of heart-centered people that little class brought together. Keep developing!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: