Uncle Earl’s Photos

I thought I had said my last word about the pictures that made the headlines when it was claimed they were long lost works by Ansel Adams when I wrote Lost Ansel Adams? in which I made clear that whatever the authorship of these images, I felt they were of no value, going perhaps a little further by writing “I’d really like to see some kind of mechanism for losing much of Mr Adams’s work rather than anyone coming up with more.”

What seemed absolutely clear from the images on the web was that whoever had made them they were not a product of the mature photographer who produced a number of truly outstanding images. I found it hard to believe that had he made them he would not have destroyed at least some of them, and more than unlikely that he would, as alleged have shown them to others during his teaching.  It was also clear that none of those supporting the claim had any real competence in the matter.

But I revisited the scene after reading A D Coleman’s comments in his Cowflop from the Adams Herd (1) largely because of some of the points that he made about the idea of ‘original prints’ with a post Coleman on Adams or Not in which I tried to look at whether there was any way we could reclaim the term and give in some true meaning in a photographic context.

But now I’d recommend you go back to Coleman’s  Photocritic International, scroll down to the bottom of the page and start reading each of his contributions in turn just for the sheer pleasure of seeing a critical sledge-hammer applied with immense control and precision to a rather small and mouldy nut. It kept me up for an hour later than I intended last night reading through it.

Coleman has not yet finished his series, and there is more to come, and I think it possible that there could be some clumsily litigious comeback against him from the by now aggrieved parties, though given his apparently meticulous evidence-based approach I see little chance of any success.

Of course the whole story has little to do with photography, but a great deal about the curious distortions that the art market has imposed on much of the institutional basis that now underpins our medium. It perhaps would not matter much if it was confined to the world of dealers, but it also now very much determines the agendas in the museum and academic sectors.

Personally, I’m going to get on with making pictures and with showing them on the web and elsewhere when and where I can, producing moderately priced books through Blurb and perhaps in other ways, and selling them for reasonable prices as prints or licensing them for use at costs that reflect both my needs and my customer’s ability to pay rather than the kind of bulk-buy rates available from the image superstores.

Perhaps finally on this topic (though who knows what may ensue) Eric Felten has an interesting piece in the Wall St Journal, Ansel Adams And the Art World Name Game which concludes with the thought:

we might want to be more open-minded when we encounter art of dubious provenance, allowing ourselves to judge and appreciate works for their quality rather than their attribution. Who knows, maybe Uncle Earl was an artist with something to say.

Although I very much regret that Uncle Earl isn’t around too enjoy his moment of posthumous fame and gallery showing, I’m afraid it is only too clear that he was not.

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