This is one of my favorite books and I think I know why. But more on that in just a bit.
Morley Baer was a tremendous large format photographer and an all-star member of the West Coast School. He was friends with Edward Weston and assisted him from time to time towards the end of Weston’s life. He also assisted Ansel Adams, and along with Adams and Brett Weston, he was one of the founders of the Friends of Photography. Baer was considered one of the world’s foremost architectural photographers, but what originally attracted me to his work were his wonderful images of California’s beauty.
For over fifty years he used his beloved Ansco 8X10 view camera in a most effective way to capture California’s farmlands, coastline, forests, deserts and buildings. Legend has it that as time went on his camera was barely (no pun intended) being held together! The ancient machine was not particularly sexy, and he used classic old lenses such at the famous 480mm 19” Goertz Artar to make mostly black and white contact prints that are simply stunning. Not only did he possess a purity of vision, but his images were of the highest technical quality.
So why do I enjoy this book so much? Well first of all, the black and white photographs of California’s landscape are just flat out beautiful and inspiring. And then there is a wonderful text by David Rains Wallace. But what makes this book really interesting, and yes special, is the inclusion of color prints that accompany most of the black and white photographs. And yes this color work is fantastic! Recently I discovered why. They were made with tungsten balanced Ektachrome slide film intended for indoor work! The film could be corrected for outdoor application by using a #85B filter on the lens and this enables a warmer outdoor image than standard Ektachrome. But wait, there’s more! Baer created a softer contrast by overexposing the film one stop and having the color lab develop it for less than normal development time. The result … beautifully delicate, yet powerful images that are the complete opposite of the usual over saturated and postcard looking color we are so used to seeing! The entirety of book is sublime and I never tire of looking at it.
I’ve used this book to great effect as a teaching tool with my students to compare black and white and color images of similar subject matter. Several have bought a copy because they fell in love.
I think this is an under appreciated book by a truly marvelous photographer. It can often be found for under $50. I purchased mine years ago as a remainder for $25.
Listen … just do yourself a favor … find this book and buy it!