It crept slowly around the crevices of the time beaten rocks, and made its way at an andante pace towards the crest of the precipice; first light had suddenly arrived. With a great contrast in it’s suddenness, a startling ring of early 20th century technology shattered the early morning stillness. This early light soon revealed a vehicle parked beside a tripod and medium format camera. The car’s top housed the form of a sleeping passenger, and also the source of the alarm clock ring. Was it a lost camper? No indeed! This was a man of dedication who waited not for a happen-chance situation, but that glorious moment when ‘man’ and ‘plan’ came together and created an image of this marvelous creation. With the flip of a mirror and drop of a curtain, history was made as light etched an image infinitely on its magnetic subject, by the articulate mind of an artist.
Where and When:
With the starkness of any ordinary February day, the 20th marked one of light and gladness for the Adams, as Ansel was added to this family in 1902. Without any particular or exceptional talent noticed in his early childhood, Ansel was also quite adverse to study and school till the age of 13. In 1915, his father gave him a year of leave from school, and brought him to the Panama Pacific International Exposition, hoping to inspire him and raise his aspirations. During his time in San Francisco viewing many wonders by his father’s side, Ansel drew a great interest in the works of artists Gauguin, Monet, and Cézanne and writers Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Piano performance became Ansel’s main outlet and greatest talent in his teen years. Gaining the advantage of tutors at home, the young Adams grew in musical skill proving him to be a great musician. It is known that Adams was near a concert level pianist and that a musical flow can be traced through his photography.
Beginnings in Art:
1918 was a special year for Ansel, now 16, who was to receive his first camera from his father. A Brownie Box model by Kodak drew Ansel into his first experiences with photography. Every man must work for his bread, and Ansel Adams was no different. His first job was taken at a photo finishing shop where he later became a janitor. ‘Never despise meager beginnings’ is a saying many of us have heard throughout the years, but this old adage may very realistically be placed on the infamous Adams. From janitor to world-renowned photographer, Adams has won acclaim for his work and will remain one of the most well known men of the 20-century. The piano was still one of Ansel’s passions, and many evenings he could be found at Best Photographic Studio of Yosemite, playing that same instrument, where his friend Harry Best resided. Virginia Best, Harry’s daughter, was to become the lifelong companion for Ansel when they married in 1928.
It was ‘Taos Pueblo’, a book of photos from New Mexico, that distinguished Ansel Adams once more in the photography world by marking his first photographic publication. Albert Bender was to thank for this debut, although only 100 copies were sold. In 1930 a copy of ‘Taos Pueblo’ could be purchased for $75, by 1980 they were being sold for $12,000! Although this seems nothing in contrast to artists of his day, Ansel certainly had an impact that was only accentuated by time.
Inspirations and Religion:
Georgia O’Keeffe, and Paul Strand were among the most inspirational to Adams. However, Paul Strand was the main source of motivation in Ansel’s choice to make photography his main vocation. As a photographer, Strand produced black and white photos with a high contrast between black and white. Ansel picked up on this technique, and accented it by using a green filter with his black and white shots. Remarkably, Ansel’s greatest dedication was visibly expressed in his patience in waiting for the right moment in a photo. It was a known fact that Adams would head for his photo location, set up his equipment and spend the night on his car, setting an alarm to catch the first beams of dawn! Adam’s spiritual life was marked by the influences of Pantheism. Webster’s 1828 dictionary definition gives us an idea of what Adams’ sought to capture with his camera: PAN'THEISM, n. [Gr. all, and God, whence theism.] The doctrine that the universe is God, or the system of theology in which it is maintained that the universe is the supreme God.
‘On a mountain outing in 1925, Adams carried a copy of English poet Edward Carpenter’s Toward Democracy. The book extols nature as the ultimate source of spiritual insight. Biographer Jonathan Spaulding states “When Ansel Adams read Carpenter among the granite peaks of the Sierra Nevada, it was the perfect combination of a time and a place, a set of ideas and a receptive mind. Reading Carpenter helped to confirm his growing sense of the spiritual power of nature and its potential for the redemption of society.” ’*
Like many blind men, Adams sought to encapsulate God and time by worshipping nature as god, versus the Creator of time and nature.
Family Life and Successes:
A wonderful ‘1932’ burst on the scene, bringing not only many photographic benefits for Adams, but also additions to his family; Michael Adams was to bring sunshine to his parents by arriving this same year. Two years later Adams formed a photography collective with the name ‘ f/64’. It was named for the f-stop ‘64’, the smallest aperture on a camera, which creates the clearest and sharpest images. During the decade of the 1930’s, Ansel was to receive more recognition by Alfred Stieglitz’ gallery ‘The American Place’. After a positive critique of his work, Adams was to arrive on the scene a few years later as the main subject of attention at ‘The American Place’ located in New York.
Educating the Populace and Other Interests:
Teaching became one of Ansel Adams vocational outlets in the 40’s, at Art Center School in CA; here he also created a system called the Zone System, which controls contrast in black and white photography. ‘Anticipate the outcome of your work, before you shoot’ was an ethic Adams later instilled in his protégés, at his Ansel Adams Workshops. During this time he was involved in several literary works, one being his own magazine, ‘Aperture’. Preserving nature and the American wilderness had long been a passion for Ansel; traced back to his first family vacations to Yosemite. Due to his high level of involvement, photographic and otherwise, Adams later was elected to the position of Honorary Vice President of the Sierra Club.
Ansel Adams and his Legacy:
It goes without saying that in the 20th century that Adams and Art were virtually synonymous words. His 80th birthday brought none other than the concert pianist Vladimir Ashkenasy to his home in Carmel CA, as an apropos gift to an American artist. During these later years, Ansel began to feel the weight of his heart conditions and fell victim to heart failure on April 22, 1984. Though an American heart died on that spring day in 1984, the U.S. still bears the emblems of his work. In memory Yosemite holds the Ansel Adams Wilderness, which houses 100,000 acres of untouched wild, while Mt. Ansel Adams was officially named in 1985. Interest in Ansel Adams and his work has not died, though the frame of time only widens as the years pass. The way we view art like Adams’ ultimately depends on our presuppositions about God, Creation, and Truth. A Pantheistic view falls short of truth by far, and fulfills Romans 1:22-24 (“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen). Because art like Adams’ gives its beholders a glimpse of the wild and unknown beauty that God created, only the mind of a Christian can fully appreciate the artistic splendor captured within these portraits of the American West.
* Excerpt from ‘Ansel Adams’ by Gary Suttle: http://home.utm.net/pan/adams.html