BWGallerist

Notoable: The Ansel Adams Gallery Announces New Photo Rating and Condition System

In Black and White Photography, Photo Print Collector on September 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

When it comes to classic landscape photography, the list of recommended photographers almost always begins with Ansel Adams. As a member of Group f/64, Adams’ photos of the Pacific Northwest set the standard for striking and ethereal black & white imagery. Consequently, Adams’ photos have made themselves a part of several photography collections throughout the world. Now, the Ansel Adams Gallery has announced its own rating system for grading photographs by the deceased master.

Condition is always difficult to assess and somewhat subjective. Our rating system is an effort to make a meaningful distinction between the found condition of photographs that are, in 2017, between 35 and 85 years old. There are no standards in the industry or bright lines between ratings. Each rating can contain a range of conditions and items, and those ranges get progressively wider as conditions deteriorate. We attempt to be detailed, clear, and consistent in our assessment of the condition of photographs, but cannot guarantee that sharper eyes will not find things we miss. Our condition reports note EVERYTHING we see under a VERY rigorous examination by TRAINED experts, and we are known among our peers to be excessively detailed. These reports, on the face of it, can be disconcerting, even when the condition is rated as “Excellent”. Our rating depends on how visible damage is. Therefore it is possible that a number of items that are barely visible in glaring light can look more severe on a written condition report than would a single issue visible 3 feet away, whereas in person, the viewer might not even note the multiple items. Also, some types of surface damage could only or are most likely to have happened, intentionally or otherwise, in the artist’s studio. A small wrinkle in the emulsion layer, or etching a dark spot in a light sky are two examples. When this occurs we note it, but if it was acceptable to Ansel to release, we do not degrade the condition rating based on that. Our stance is that if it was good enough for him, who are we to negatively judge the condition.

Many issues noted here can be effectively treated with proper and qualified conservation. The cost of such treatments are generally not insignificant, and can take a considerable amount of time due to multiple passes or subsequent steps. Conservation work or evidence thereof is not a negative factor in assessing the condition or value of a print. We evaluate the current condition, not what it may have been or what it may become.

If you’re a serious collector of Adams photography, the gallery’s system is something that will seriously considered down the road. It will help guide through the print condition ratings and the quality of the layers, and also serve to educate on commonly used condition terms.

The ratings system can be found here: Ansel Adams Gallery

 

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