Falling Into Ansel Adams' Photographs
Landscapes so vivid and realistic, as if we’ve fallen into the Yosemite Valley, been swallowed by the Half Dome or sitting right there watching the moon rise in Hernandez. These photos look like they could have been taken in any era in the past or even today. Crisp details and the perfect balance of contrast bring these landscapes to life; this is the exceptional brilliance of Ansel Adams.
Born in 1902 in San Francisco, Ansel Adams rose to prominence as a photographer of Yosemite National Park, using his works to promote conservation of wilderness areas. His iconic black-and-white images helped establish photography among the fine arts. Adams was trained as a concert pianist until his teen years, when a trip to Yosemite National Park brought him into union with photography. And the two could never be separated ever since.
Today, Adams’ timeless photographs remain elegant and relevant, serving as a learning reference for young photographers. His work captures the massiveness, majesticness and stillness of nature exceptionally, that no matter how big or small the print, the audience can still experience the greatness and serenity of the national park. The prism of Adams’ photographs is an extraction of enormous proportion — and all these were just as Adams intended, portraying what he saw and how he felt when he was physically there.
To achieve that requires a lot more than just clicking the shutter, as Adams famously said, “a photograph is made, not taken”. It matters where one stands, the composition and frame, as well as the post-processing. Adams was known to spend a great deal of time in his darkroom whenever he was not out shooting. His mastery in photography was recorded and shared in published books, encouraging generations to make photographs, instead of taking them.
Adams pioneered the notion of photography as an art form, not just as a mere record of daily life. He strongly embodied the transferring of feelings and emotions into photography by capturing every shade found between black and white. Adams refused to give up on any shade no matter how dark or light, with each shade given its own name. This gave birth to what we now know as Ansel Adams’ Zone System, a system he used to create photographs with the widest tonality possible.
Adams left behind a legacy not only in the art realm, but also in the sustainability world. His photographs helped in building awareness on climate change and the conservation of nature, highlighting the necessary balance between nature and man. This can also be interpreted as a necessary balance in photography: to embrace the subject photographed and enhance with post-processing without going overboard to distort the actual scene.
As evidenced, Ansel Adams remains relevant even in today’s digital age. The post-processing he did in his darkroom is equivalent to what modern photographers do on programs like Lightroom and Photoshop, making photographs that reflect and express the photographer’s experience and feeling. All of which is in line with his belief in art, “as with all creative work, the craft must be adequate for the demands of expression”.