Ansel Adams. It’s the 112th anniversary of his birth today and it should not go unnoticed. He gave photography a leg up in the art world with his breathtaking landscapes and his unflinching quest for perfection when it came to balancing light and shadows. His zone system is still taught for tonal balance. Anyone interested in photography should study the zone system.
He got his first camera at the age of 14, in 1916, on his first trip to Yosemite. In 1921 his first images of Yosemite were published, thus beginning the nation’s (and, indeed, the world’s) fascination with the man and his art.
Often cited as lyrical in his depiction of wilderness, it should come as no surprise that Adams had aspired to be a professional musician (pianist). So keen was his creative spirit, the same intensity that made his music so beautiful drove him to excellence in his photography.
But, don’t believe for a second that Adams could only shoot landscapes! His portraits — particularly of those in the Manzanar internment camp (Manzanar War Relocation Center) — are just as lovingly crafted as anything else. The portraits were not simply a collection of faces, though. Adams deeply felt the betrayal by the government against its own citizens. Those depicted in the images with dignity and indomitable spirit shining brightly.
The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and dispair [sic] by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment…All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use
He also created images in industrial settings, my favorite of which come from the Salz Tannery in Santa Cruz, California.
Every image taken by Ansel Adams and shown to the world had to meet his exacting standards. He sought balance and he achieved it, or it wouldn’t be seen by the public.
Among those images are these from the tannery.
Looking at the tones in these images, one should note the range of those tones. Nary a glaring, blown-out highlight to be found (as is so often the case with photographers these days). From the deepest black to the palest white, the tones are true — much like a perfectly played note.
Without belaboring his entire history (I encourage you to read up, though!), it’s no stretch to say that most everyone in the Western world (and well beyond) have heard of Ansel Adams and have likely viewed one of his images in some manner, such is the depth and breadth of his oeuvre. His desire to teach his techniques to others, to unite like minds, and to pursue his art has made Adams one of the greatest influences in photography.
Happy birthday, Ansel! Thank you for making photography so very intriguing.