The Black Sun by Ansel Adams and Minor White.

Ansel Adams, “The Black Sun, Owens Valley, California,” 1939 From the book “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs,” page 124.

Last fall, after the bulk of my Black Sun Project shooting was complete I began researching and writing about the work. I looked into symbolic and historical meanings of a Black Sun, the history of photography as well as the more recent artist manipulations with glitches. Its quite amazing how research can help you more fully understand what you were doing in your work.

harlan erskine, “Black Sun 0181,” c-print on diasec in wood frame, 48" x 64"

I hope to discuss the symbolic meaning of a Black Sun and glitch art in other posts. Now, I want to discuss the biggest revelation in my research; two historical photographers have come up with very similar Black Sun pictures. The first image I came across is the image above by Ansel Adams that was made in 1939 and the other is by Minor White produced in 1955.

Through a bit of Google image searching I came upon several blogs that mentioned an Ansel Adams’ image called “The Black Sun, Tungsten Hills, Owens Valley, California.” There is very little web information and virtually no good images floating around but Ansel talks about this image quite thoroughly in his book “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs,” starting on page 124.

My first negative was planned for development in Kodak D-23. The film was Kodak Super-XX, a fine material of the "thick emulsion" type. The sun flared strongly in the sky, and in the center of the flare was a small circle of slightly gray value, representing a partial reversal of the sun's image. The second exposure was identical to the first, but compensating development was planned for the desired reversal effect. It was gratifying to see both negatives as experiments and one, The Black Sun, as a striking surrealistic image. It was proof that the subject may prompt ideas, ideas crave visualizations, and craft makes their realization possible. 

Ansel does a nice job of talking about where the technical and the aesthetic join up and work together. I am not sure if he imagined the outcome before the negative was produced, like he claims, or if it was a happy accident. Either way his image stunned me when I first found it in his book.

“The Black Sun” by Minor White, 1955 from Time-Life’s “Great Photographers,” ref. 163, p. 185 via “Solarization Demystified” by Professor and artist William L. Jolly.

Another surprising discovery happened more recently, when I came across an article on solarization by Professor William L. Jolly. Apparently “Adams claimed that the reversal was anticipated and previsualized. White admitted that, in his case, it was an accident and rhapsodized, The sun is not fiery after all, but a dead planet. We on earth give it its light.”

Another contemporary photographer working with similar content of sun images with a different method to get there is Chris McCaw. Chris has been harnessing the sun to literally burn the photographic medium and has been getting some breathtaking results. I look forward to seeing the real prints in person someday.

Sunburn GSP#039, by Chris McCaw 2006.