Saturday, February 20

Magical union with beauty

Today, February 20th, is the birthday of the master American landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, born in 1902 in San Francisco. He is shown here in silhouette in this self-portrait.

Adams often likened the negative to a composer's score and the print to the conductor's performance, and was known to spend as much as a full day on a single print. The musical metaphor seems quite apropos from an artist who gave up a career as a concert pianist to seek out his “translucent unity with the world and sky” and give us the "austere and blazing poetry of the real".

A sampling of quotes:
— "Some photographers take reality... and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation."

— "The only things in my life that compatibly exists with this grand universe are the creative works of the human spirit."

Yosemite Valley, 1942
Another perhaps lesser known facet of Adams is his wonderful prose. In February 1932, he wrote this on the spirit of the mountains in the Sierra Club Bulletin:
Mid-afternoon... a brisk wind breathed silver on the willows bordering the Tuolumne and hustled some scattered clouds beyond Kuna Crest. It was the first day of the outing -- you were a little tired and dusty, but quite excited in spite of yourself. You were already aware that contact with fundamental earthy things gave a startling perspective on the high-spun unrealities of modern life. No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied -- it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. There are some that care not to listen but the disciples are drawn to the high altars with magnetic certainty, knowing that a great Presence hovers over the ranges. You felt all this the very first day, for you were within the portals of the temple. You were conscious of the jubilant lift of the Cathedral range, of the great choral curves of ruddy Dana, of the processional summits of Kuna Crest. You were aware of Sierra sky and stone, and of the emerald splendor of Sierra forests. Yet, at the beginning of your mountain experience, you were not impatient, for the spirit was gently all about you as some rare incense in a Gothic void. Furthermore, you were mindful of the urge of two hundred people toward fulfillment of identical experience -- to enter the wilderness and seek, in the primal patterns of nature, a magical union with beauty.
— "There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."

—"There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer."

Rose on Driftwood

The PBS video embedded below gives us Ansel Adams' philosophy of photography in his own words and those of people closest to him and his work:

Photos, top to bottom: Self portrait / Yosemite Valley 1942 / Rose on Driftwood


  1. Your blog is a wonderful discovery. It is a rare find.

    Made this one of my 'Posts Of The Week' - I just know I won't be able to stay away. :)

  2. Adams has captivated me for a long time. I like his Yosemite pictures the best. (deep bow to him & a happy birthday, too)

  3. Thanks, cleobytheseao, I look forward to seeing you and will make it over to your blog soon.

  4. Terresa: Ansel Adams is a treasure. The more I see him the more I think of him as an impressionist with a camera, with his devoted focus to capturing the perception of a fleeting ephemeral moment.

    There are some fine youtube videos on him that I would recommend. I did not want to embed more than one on this post and had a hard time choosing just one. If you do a google videos search for "Ansel Adams' Epiphany" and for "Ansel Adams' darkroom technique" you will find a number of them. I found the one about how he worked in the darkroom fascinating.

  5. Thank you for posting this video, Lorenzo.

    I did not realise how wonderful Adams was with words - not to evade reality, but to embrace it - a poetry of the real.

    We've moved beyond the perfect, pure and ideal these days but still we could only do that following in the footsteps of people like Ansel Adams.

    And the sound of his voice is also beautiful, so clear and honest. Ever striving.

  6. Elisabeth: ... "Ever striving" ... I like that, it makes the perfect bookend to "never reaching". Life, I reckon, is everything that comes in between, always made so much more worthwhile by the likes of Ansel Adams.

  7. Thank you for sharing this post on Anse Adams. I love the way he jouneyed on the path of friendship and combine nature and spirit to experience it! Have a great week! :) The Bach

  8. i have always admired his work but never really looked behind the pics...thanks for the glimpse. great quotes...

  9. He really was one of a kind, and his work is so instantly recognizable. So many have tried to imitate his work, but no one has ever really done so...

  10. Glad I stopped by today - Great post :)

  11. Love the second Adams quote. I was first introduced to his work in the late 80s, early 90s. Some museum had an Adams exhibit... trying to remember if this was in Nevada or California.

    Argh! Brain's failing me!!!

  12. LLL, how did I miss this great post? Hope the birthday celebrations aren't over! I remember being introduced to Adams in the mid 70s by my college roommate, who was nutty about him. I had never seen his photography, and was in awe. (still am)

  13. Lorenzo

    Right over my desk where I am sitting is a wall of art and two large pieces dominate or set the theme of which are Ansel Adams Canyon de Chelly & the Mural Project. I do not dream in black and white which there is some dream controversy over but I love the nuances of black and white photography and old B&W movies.
    Thanks for reading the Inspiration piece. It is hard sometimes to write on such personal issues ... in those moments shared more was said without words between us.

    Multitasking Tonight I was driving home in the dark and the moon was up in from of me while I was reaching or fumbling through my pure and driving -- I wanted to take a picture -- it looked like the Cheshire cat smile just before it fades but alas my charger went out -- C'est la vie


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