"In the history of American conservation, few have worked as long and as effectively to preserve wilderness and to articulate the "wilderness idea" as Ansel Adams."
Why was Ansel Adams revered by Americans as no other artist or conservationist has been? William Turnage explains: "More than any other influential American of his epoch, Adams believed in both the possibility and the probability of humankind living in harmony and balance with its environment."
Through early high-country experiences (1920's), Ansel became aware of aesthetic qualities in the wilderness that he had not anticipated.
"I was climbing the long ridge west of Mount Clark. It was one of those mornings where the sunlight is burnished with a keen wind and long feathers of cloud move in a lofty sky. The silver light turned every blade of grass and every particle of sand into a luminous metallic splendor; there was nothing, however small, that did not clash in the bright wind, that did not send arrows of light through the glassy air. I was suddenly arrested in the long crunching path up the ridge by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light. The moment I paused, the full impact of the mood was upon me; I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail of the grasses ...the small flotsam of the forest, the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks... I dreamed that for a moment time stood quietly, and the vision became but the shadow of an infinitely greater world -- and I had within the grasp of consciousness a transcendental experience."
In the Ansel Adams Documentary from the American Experience at PBS the narrator says, "He would spend the rest of his life trying to capture on film the quicksilver light he saw that morning -- and the sense it conveyed of a deeper truth and meaning."
One spring day in 1927 he perched precariously on a cliff with his camera and the unwieldy photographic glass plates of the day. He hoped to capture an imposing perspective of the face of Half Dome, the snow-laden high country and a crystal-clear sky. Only two unexposed plates remained. With one he made a conventional exposure. Suddenly, he realized that he wanted an image with more emotional impact. "I knew so little about photography then, it was a miracle I got anything. But that was the first time I realized how the print was going to look--what I now call visualization--and was actually thinking about the emotional effect of the image...I began to visualize the black rock and deep sky. I really wanted to give it a monumental, dark quality. So I used the last plate I had with a No. 29-F red filter...and got this exciting picture."
A half-century later, "Monolith - the Face of Half Dome" remains one of Adams' most compelling studies. It bears clear witness to that "pointed awareness of the light" which he experienced on the ridge of Mt. Clark.
Moon and Half Dome, 1960
Moonrise, Hernandez, 1941
Photography Lesson - "Moon and Half Dome" by Ansel Adams | The Ansel Adams Gallery
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In the Ansel Adams Documentary from the American Experience at PBS, Adams says,
"I can't verbalize the internal meaning of pictures whatsoever. Some of my friends can at very mystical levels, but I prefer to say that, if I feel something strongly, I would make a photograph, that would be the equivalent of what I saw and felt... When I'm ready to make a photograph, I think I quite obviously see in my mind's eye something that is not literally there, in the true meaning of the word. I'm interested in expressing something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without."
Ansel Adams elevated the printing techniques of dodging and burning to an art form. He held a card or other opaque object between the enlarger lens and the photographic paper to manipulate the exposure of selected areas on a photographic print. Photoshop includes the digital equivalent of these techniques.
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