Review of Group f.64 by Mary Street Alinder.

“Photography my passion, the search for truth, my obsession.” – Alfred Stieglitz.

Every good story needs a catalyst, Alfred Stieglitz is ours. He strikes fear into the group of photographers who became Group F.64.

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Alfred Stieglitz.

My first impressions were “oh no! More moaning from privileged people pretending to be deprived” when I read “Money was tight but then again it was always tight”.

I was wrong this group started in the main with very little but a box brownie and some limited darkroom skills. They worked hard to achieve all they did. Even after achieving some success the artists had to cobble together money to print for an exhibition.

This is a great book written by someone who obviously knew the people in the book very well. Reading the story of this group of photographers is mind blowing. Their adventures began almost 100 years ago, yet their thinking would fit in today they were before their time but of their time too.

From the boredom they felt with pictorialism they came up with super sharp realistic photos taken with mainly large format cameras. These large format cameras needed to be carried to the great sites in Yosemite Park then Adams looked for better vantage points to capture that perfect shot of the subject. The iconic dome in Yosemite involved a 3000 ft climb with camera what an effort. Worth it though to get a perfect iconic shot.This is why all in this group were masters of their skills. As the story develops other people appear, photographers I have not heard of before so it is a great source of new knowledge. I have used this book and its artists to influence my own work.

image

Ansel Adams, Great Dome, Yosemite. MOMA.

It amazes me that all these people were in this place San Fransisco and Carmel at the same time as great things were happening in the area. However they didn’t want to capture just the big things they also captured the insignificant and made it significant. They did this by really looking. The Mark One eyeball is an amazing instrument after all.

When Weston captured Pepper No. 30 he created a work of art from looking at a vegetable. Then they ate their subject. This was a necessity as they had little money to buy food at the time.

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Edward Weston Pepper no30. MOMA.

The Author was assistant to Ansel Adams for many years and got many anecdotes from conversations  with the great man himself.

These people enjoyed partying hard even drinking developing alcohol in the prohibition.   These intimacies helped me really connect with these people. The narrative filled in the gaps between the photos.

I had never thought that these extremely focused photos were a backlash to the soft focus that went before. Or that the capturing of subjects they saw was a reaction to the staged  theatrical shots of pictorialism.

Also the battle between the group and Stieglitz and indeed all the artists in the East or more specifically New York develops until both accept the groups work.. It feels like the wild west in photography was in the wild west around San Francisco.

The different people explored different aspects or subjects. Some focused on the great outdoors whilst others concentrated on architecture. All though wanted sharp focus and detail hence f.64.

Whilst reading through my reflections it sounds like these people were poor, what they lacked in financial riches they made up for by rich living and striving for the best they could be. More of us should try to live like this.

Alinder captures the Groups individual personalities, vulnerabities and human flaws. They were great on their own but as a group they were, no are a tour de force in the photographic world. The book reads like a novel and keeps you gripped throughout. It is very interesting and inspirational.

It is disappointing to read about the elitism shown in later life which stifled the development of the group. After all this kind of elitism from Steiglitz was an early catalyst in f.64.

The movement is finally accepted and even promoted by Stieglitz and the East but amazingly Willard Van Dyke gets bored with the Arty approach and wants more realism. Demonstrating evolution within the art world.

Even when they had achieved great things they still wanted to develop. Opening  the photography department in the Museum of Modern art. Ansel Adams moved photography a step nearer to acceptance in the art world. F64s practitioners developed the first photography as fine art course. So taking the first steps leading to where I find myself today.

i think people with no great interest in photography would find this book interesting. It is a story from its time about people loving, living and breathing a passion. Leading to romance, intrigue, jealousy and love. Great lives in great times.

References
Aliner, M. (n.d.). Group f.64.
Ansel-Adams.org, (1960). Monolith, The Face of Half Dome.. [JPEG image] Available at: http://Http:/Ansel-Adams.org/images/photos/the-face-of-half-dome.jpg.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, (1930). Pepper No 30.. [Image] Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/39.208.

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