|Ansel Adams ~ photograph courtesy of wikipedia|
TOWARD THE END of his life, photographer Ansel Adams compiled a set of 75 images representing what he believed to be his best work.
Ansel Easton Adams was born February 20, 1902, in San Francisco, the only child of Charles and Olive Adams. Reared on the windswept sand dunes that overlooked the Golden Gate, Adams was an enormously curious child.While gifted in many areas, Adams was largely unsuccessful at school; the rigid structure of public education was not to his liking.
At 14, Adams visited Yosemite National Park. Astounded by the scenery, and armed with the Kodak #1 Brownie his parents had given him, Adams recorded the beauty that surrounded him. It was here that his love for nature and photography blossomed, sparking an interest that would make him return to Yosemite every year for the rest of his life.
Wanting to become more than an amateur photographer, Adams studied the popular technique of the time: soft-focus negatives to bromoil prints, which made the photographs look like charcoal drawings.
Having mastered this technique, he began working towards more clarity in his photography and a way to depict the detail and emotional majesty of the mountains and natural landscape. A conscious, artistic decision to achieve more optically accurate pictures led him to experiment with lighting.
Through his exacting efforts to capture reality, Adams developed two important theories still used by photographers today: visualization, which is to plan before the exposure is taken how the final print will look, and the zone system, which ensures correct exposure for nearly every composition and light situation.
In April 1927, Adams produced his first acknowledged masterpiece, "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome." On a cool spring morning, Adams, his fiance Virginia Rose Best and a couple of friends climbed to the Diving Board, a small terrace adjacent to Half Dome. Having used all but one of his 6-by-8-inch glass plates, he took the picture.
"This photograph," Adams said, "represents my first conscious visualization. In my mind's eye I saw the final image."
In 1932, disgusted with the dominance of pictorialism (soft-focus pictures) in fine-art photography, Adams and his contemporaries Imogen Cunningham, Henry Swift, Sonya Noskowiak, John Paul Edwards, Edward Weston and Willard Van Dyke gathered to discuss how to promote what they called "straight" or "pure" photography. They called themselves Group f/64, referring to the smallest aperture setting common on view-lens cameras - a setting that gives great depth of field and maximum sharpness throughout the photograph.
In 1935, Adams published his "Personal Credo," and by 1941 he had fully developed the "Zone System." He went on to become one of America's most celebrated and influential photographers.
The first image that greets the viewer in "Ansel Adams: The Museum Set" is the breathtaking "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" (1941), perhaps Adams' best- known masterpiece. The photograph emerged from a moment of combined serendipity and immediate technical recall. In the east the moon was rising, and in the west the late sun shone over the cloud bank, flashing brilliant light on the graveyard crosses. "I will never be so exact with my thousands of moonless pictures," Adams said of the photograph.
Many of Adams' photographs border on the abstract, as in "Frozen Lake and Cliffs" (1932). In explaining these works, Adams said, "I prefer the term `extract' over `abstract' since I cannot change the optical realities but only manage them in relation to themselves and the format. For photographic composition I think in terms of creating configurations out of chaos, rather than following any conventional rules of composition."
One photograph (this reviewer's favorite) depicts well the depth-of-field, sharp focus ideas of Group f/64: "Mt. Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar" (1945). In the foreground are rocks and boulders, the background is a mountain range with sun-drenched clouds hovering overhead. From the closest pebble to the farthest cloud swell, everything is in critical focus.
While every photograph is a work of art, Adams' oeuvre also documents the wilderness, whose existence today is seriously imperiled. Although Adams said he never made a photograph expressly for the conservation movement, he was glad to put them into service for purposes of environmental awareness.
In his catalog for the exhibit, Roger Newbold, director of photography at the Salt Lake Art Center School, said, "It is difficult to think that one individual could do so much to enhance the quality of life for so many. Ansel Adams freely gave of himself so that we, through his eyes, could begin to build our own sense of aesthetics, environment and understanding. His life and photographs are like a stone cast into water - the radiating rings in ever-expanding orbits continue to influence us."
It was Adams' intent to produce 100 editions of the 75-piece museum portfolio. Unfortunately, he was only able to complete seven sets before his death in 1984.