Nancy Hendrickson at Phoenix art museum

Learning from Ansel Adams

Last February (which honestly feels like a life time ago, but that’s a whole other story), I took a trip with my beloveds to Arizona —  to soak up some sun, replenish our vitamin D and experience Phoenix. While we were there, I was so excited to learn that the Phoenix Art Museum had an exhibit with Ansel Adams photography. It was titled ‘Performing the Print.’  And well, to be fair, there was also a show ‘Legends of Speed’ about race cars. This made it much easier for the males in our group to agree to a museum on a sun filled day.


“Twentieth-century American photographer Ansel Adams famously said that the photographic negative is like a composer’s score, and the print a performance.”  This exhibit showed examples of how Ansel made multiple images from the same negative to express his creative vision.

Ansel Adams quote about printing


The Ansel Adams exhibit truly rang true for me! It was all about his photographic print process. How each black and white print, made from his negatives was a technical process, but also an expressive work of art. On display were examples of one photo with two or three variations, of that same photo. It was a so fun to see this representation of how you can play with light and shadow to create depth. And by experimenting and accenting different parts of a print can can affect how the viewer sees the piece. It was really fascinating to see.


My work and my photographs are all about the print techniques. I spend a lot of time creating different visions of a print from the original negatives (or digital capture). It can take a bit of time and effort to work on contrast overall — the lights and darks. I make choices on where to add darkness within the print (or burning) and where to add lightness into the print as well (dodging). Then I run a series paper tests through the printer, which then need dry for a few hours, before assessing and making further changes. And I often refine and change how the photo is cropped… again these choices can enhance or detract from the print. Ultimately ending with the final master print.


I strive to create a lot of depth and drama, like what Barry had made in his original prints. This exhibit of Ansel Adams was great to learn and see his photographs in real life, and learn from by Ansel’s expert examples. It helped to invigorate my work, reinforce my process, and understand how it is indeed an expressive art form.


I will be sharing more about my photographic process and upcoming series on my social media accounts. Be sure to follow me on:

Facebook: IrelandBW


Instagram: @irelandinblackandwhite

“Performing the Print : Ansel Adams” exhibit will be on view until March 28, 2021 at the Phoenix Museum of Art.  See the link > 

According to their website, the museum will be reopening in October 2020.