PHOTOGRAPHY

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough for Ansel Adams

Landscapes of the American West demonstrates Adams’s technical mastery and innate sensitivity to nature. It includes some of Adams’s most dramatic and recognisable images for example, the haunting Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 in which a solitary moon hovers over wraithlike clouds blanketing a valley near Española in Santa Fe. Adams’s love for the wilderness kept him returning to photograph California. 

The landscapes now serve as records to the immense beauty of the regions he has photographed, inspiring artists to serve the interests of the environment and a timely reminder of our collective responsibility to look after our planet. “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence,” Adams states in what sounds a mini manifesto that symbolised his life’s work. No two prints of Adams’s photographs are exactly the same and Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico varied over the years as he “sought more intensity of light and richness of values”. 

Adams grew up in San Francisco amid the sand dunes beyond the Golden Gate. From an early age he fell in love with the landscape around him; his life “coloured and modulated by the great earth gesture of the Yosemite Sierra”. For Adams the wilderness was one of great depth, “a mystique: a valid, intangible, non-materialistic experience”.

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.

His connection to Yosemite lasted his whole life, frequently returning to explore and photograph the valley and led him to become a member (and president) of environmental organisation the Sierra Club, which eventually led him to lobby for the creation of the foundation of Kings Canyon National Park in Sierra NevadaAdams’s familiarity with the Californian landscape enabled him to capture the untouched beauty of the region. A particularly difficult area of the landscape to photograph on bright days, was the grey rise of the Sierra Landscape as it blends with the sky. Taken whilst a storm raged in the mountains, Adams was able to use the conditions to accentuate the shapes and planes hitherto unseen.

Working with Fred Archer, Adams’s development of the Zone System allowed him to gain more control over a finished photograph by translating tonal variations into different shades of grey in black and white photographs on negatives and paper. Adams’s concept of ‘visualisation’ was also fundamental in the development of his original and personal aesthetic – seeing the entire image in its spiritual, emotional and intellectual aspects – before shooting. 

Adams’s love for the wilderness kept him returning to photograph California. Ben Burdett, Director, Atlas Gallery says: “In order to fully appreciate Adams’s work you have to see his images in the flesh; his work is technically brilliant from the creation of his photographs to its production and printing. Adams is a master in every aspect of photography.” 

The landscapes now serve as records to the immense beauty of the regions he has photographed, inspiring artists to serve the interests of the environment and a timely reminder of our collective responsibility to look after our planet. 

  • Landscape of the American West is on at Atlas Gallery until 2 February 2019

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