Monday Blog Blog: Ansel Adams In The National Parks

February 28th, 2011 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Book Review: Ansel Adams In The National Parks: Photographs From America’s Wild Places

Highlights Of And About The Essays And The Photographs

 

Ansel Adams In The National Parks by Ansel Adams. Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Amazon.com price $22.72.

How to add to what other reviewers have said? Ansel Adams In The National Parks has been reviewed in a number of other venues online (see list of relevant posts below), which represents a sizable marketing and publicity outlay for Little, Brown and Company. Little Brown was kind enough to send me a review copy as a gift, thank you to Little Brown and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust as well as the Center For Creative Photography. I imagine the other reviewers received advanced review copies to aid their review efforts too.

Below is what I like and dislike about this new release. I highly applaud the book and offer some criticism too. Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs from America’s Wild Places (Amazon) is a beautiful addition to anyone’s library. The look and feel of this new volume about Ansel Adams, pleases the senses and says quality all the way, yet the book is reasonably priced at only $40.00. Considering the book displays “more than 225 photographs” and the reader discovers “many rarely seen and 50 never before published” Ansel Adams photographs. These facts alone make it worth owning. The new binding of  Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, Ansel Adams In Color and Ansel Adams In The National Parks: Photographs From America’s Wild Places are all similar in attractive design and style: block lettering on white covers with smaller photographs on front and back.

In Ansel Adams In The National Parks I was happy to find many Ansel Adams photographs I have never seen before. The far majority of his photographs of the national parks in the book are a supreme joy to discover. There are perhaps half a dozen or less that I thought were below the standards of what Ansel Adams himself would have published. Ansel Adams was very particular about which of his photographs he printed and published. He printed only about 900 images out of his 50,000 original negatives.

I liked the notes and letters between Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall and Beaumont Newhall, when they either traveled together or wrote to each other about Ansel Adams’ travels and photography on his Guggenheim to photograph the National Parks.

I also enjoyed reading darkroom black and white photographer John Sexton on printing Ansel Adams photographs in the 1970s.

It is always a treat to read Wallace Stegner. His essays are well-informed and well-argued. As good as his essays are, his fiction is even better. Why not use new essays rather than reprints of essays published in previous books about Ansel Adams? Plenty of high quality credentialed essayists would love the opportunity to write about Ansel Adams in the National Parks.

The essays in the back of Ansel Adams In The National Parks, sing, especially the last essay by William A. Turnage “Ansel Adams, Environmentalist.” William A. Turnage’s prose is lyrical as he praises and passionately gives tribute to his life-long friend and partner. The two essays by Richard B. Woodward, “Ansel Adams In The National Parks” on the travels of Ansel Adams, Nancy Newhall and Beaumont Newhall and “Ansel Adams and the Preservation of Wilderness,” each provide a well-written and fascinating short history lesson. In “Ansel Adams and the Preservation of Wilderness”  Richard B. Woodward wrote:

As our sense of what happened yesterday or decades ago is often as muddled and contentious as our plans for the future, a mechanical process that provides more or less realistic evidence of the world as it once was can be of immense practical and political value…. Architecture historians in several European countries understood this vital function of photography soon after Daguerre took credit for inventing it in 1839. In France the government had already founded the Commission des Monuments Historiques in 1837 and assigned it to compile a list of old decaying medieval and Renaissance structures—cathedrals, parks, chateaus, villages—imperiled by neglect…. In 1851, the Commission selected five photographers—Edourd-Denis Baldus, Hippolyte Bayard, Gustave Le Gray, Henri Le Secq, and O. Mestral—for an elite unite that operated under the name La Mission Heliographique. It was perhaps the first time, though by no means the last, that photographers were hired in a noble-minded effort to preserve valuable parts of the world, in this case a centuries-old heritage that France was in danger of forfeiting unless quick action was taken to save these crumbling and irreplaceable sites….

Richard B. Woodward continued with sections on how photographs helped protect Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone, and many other conservation causes all over the world. Then he wrote about Ansel Adams’ leadership in the transformation of photography and its establishment as an art form:

By organizing the exhibition Group f.64 in 1932—with Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and others—Adams became an eloquent spokesman for “straight photography” in San Francisco and far beyond….Finally no photographer except Stieglitz did more to win acceptance for photography as a fine art. In 1940, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York created a separate department of photography, the first in the world, Adams became one of its founding fathers. Without training as a scholar or curator, he was nonetheless instrumental in the rediscovery of Watkins, Jackson, and O’Sullivan. By extolling their achievements to Beaumont Newhall and others in the museum community, he helped to construct a nascent art historical continuum for landscape photography. His own international prominence as an artist toward the end of his life altered the material conditions for those choosing to take the medium in that direction. In the 1970s, prints by Adams became one of the pillars of an emerging market for photographs as an art collectible, for sale in galleries and auction houses. The select but not inconsiderable number of photographers lucky enough to earn a living today from sales of their prints have Adams to thank for proving this could be done. Despite an altered context and a newfound respect for photographers within the realm of contemporary art, his pictures remain basic to the photography market and show no sign of diminishing in prevalence twenty-five years after his death.

Related Posts:

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Ansel Adams Gallery

“Black And White Prints, Collectors And Philip Hyde” Fine Art Photography Collector’s Resource

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” National Parks Traveler

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Travel Blissful

“Review: Ansel Adams In The National Parks” JMG Galleries

“Ansel Adams In The National Parks” Photonaturalist

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17 comments

  1. pj says:

    I appreciate the review David. I’ve seen the book, and have paged through it briefly in the bookstore, but I’ve never really spent any time with it. I’m sure some of his less known work would be well worth getting to know.

  2. Thank you, PJ. I am not sure whether you relate to this, but even though I am always a fan of Ansel Adams photographs themselves, my initial reaction was, “Oh jeeze, not another book on Ansel Adams.” However, once I delved into the text contents and spent time with the many previously unseen landscapes, I was quite impressed. The Ansel Adams people have done it again.

  3. I always enjoy reading about Ansel Adams. Thanks for the review, David. I’ll add this to my wish list.

    Sharon

  4. pj says:

    I can relate to that, especially given the amount of poorly reproduced Adams photos we’ve been flooded with over the past several years. Quality workmanship is always welcome though.

  5. Derrick says:

    Looks like it will make a good addition to my Ansel Adams in Color….

  6. Hi Sharon, thank you for stopping in. I feel the same way about Ansel Adams.

    PJ, there were a few that were not up to snuff, but most of the never before seen photographs are beautiful. Then again, I am perhaps more partial to Ansel Adams’ work than many young photographers today.

    Derrick, I appreciate your comment. The two books have a similar look and design. What did you think of the reproduction quality and image quality of “Ansel Adams In Color”?

  7. Greg Russell says:

    At the California Museum of Photography here in Riverside, there are many Adams prints he did in Joshua Tree, and the area around inland southern California that are quite impressive. You’re right…discovering new work of his is always a joy!

    Thanks for this great review, David. I’ll put it on my wish list as well.

    Cheers,
    Greg

  8. Hi Greg, thank you for the comment. Nearly every museum has or wants Ansel Adams, which is not a bad thing for Philip Hyde necessarily, except in the case of ignoramus museum directors. “California Museum of Photography” is a glorified name for the University of California Riverside’s museum of photography. When I visited they did not have many Ansel Adams prints on display and certainly none of the desert. I’m glad you found more. The director there was once researching to do a photography show about Water in the West. Bob Kolbrenner had to explain to him who Philip Hyde was and how Dad related to water in the West. When I was there visiting the director, he mispronounced “Anasazi.” That he didn’t know of Dad and was not able to pronounce “Anasazi” were not big issues to me, but his arrogance and condescending attitude was. These are the exact people Dad used to detest and any self-respecting photographer does as well. This director was academically trained in the East. Many of these types of museum directors think they know all about Western photographers because they know of Ansel Adams and the Westons. They look down on all other Western photographers and insinuate that most Western photography was unimportant. Meanwhile, if this director had some awareness of Western landscape photography, he would already know all that he ever needed to know about Water in the West and wouldn’t have to research it. To me the Riverside “California Museum of Photography” was a big waste of time. It was loaded with photography that had little to do with the area and was being led by someone interested in building his own resume rather than learning about the Western deserts, one of which he resided in. Maybe a display of Ansel Adams’ prints from Joshua Tree and inland southern California is his idea of a show about Water in the West. Do you remember the name of the exhibition?

  9. Greg Russell says:

    Tell me how you really feel, David. ;)

    My feelings and impressions of the CMP are about the same as yours. They have very little on display that interests me, and although I haven’t been there in a few years, the last time I went, they had videos of German performance art looping in the main gallery. It was…painful, to say the least. There certainly was nothing regional or local of interest to me.

    The Adams prints and negatives are on display on the top floor. They have few prints and no negatives out for you to look at, but they are catalogued digitally. Mostly the negatives are from Adams’ time in the desert, as well as some of his work in the Riverside area and on the then-young UC Riverside campus. There literally are hundreds of them to go through.

    Cheers,
    Greg

  10. Hi Greg, thank you for responding and for the interesting parallel impression of general weirdness, irrelevance and posturing at the UC Riverside “‘California’ Museum of Photography.” If I told you how I really feel about the “‘California’ Museum of Photography” I might easily run through a string of vile expletives. And, I assure you it is not sour grapes as far as having Dad’s work exhibited by them. Any more, I would not talk with a small-time museum like that about exhibiting Dad’s photography, unless they approached me with a major project that included a traveling show. If anything an exhibition there would make Dad’s work seem inconsequential, unless it was part of something important. Nonetheless, I will say that I would hope they might take their first clue as to what to exhibit from their own name: “California,” and maybe their second clue from their Southwestern desert surroundings.

  11. Derrick says:

    David, listening to your rant makes me chuckle… welcome to my life, my friend! Being a “museum professional” myself I could go on and on and on in a similar vein.

    In response to your question above, I would have to say that overall I think that the reproductions of AA’s images were acceptable, but there were a few that seemed rather flat and not very Ansel Adams-like…

    Looking at the cover image of the new book – can anyone explain to me why Ansel would set up on top of the car? I understand the different perspective, but I imagine that it was not 100% stable on top of the vehicle and opened up some movement to the camera.

  12. Derrick, we have a shooting platform on the back of our truck. You can’t use it in high winds or (I have found) when someone else is also on the platform unless they hold perfectly still. I am guessing that car of Mr. Adam’s was heavy! Seems like the old cars were much heavier than they are now. I also wonder if they shock system was stiffer or something. I would think he had a fairly stable platform unless there were high winds. (Plus his camera would have been heavy also).

    My 12 cents. :-)

    Sharon

  13. Hi Derrick, I sure wish more of the museum professionals were like you, with real down-to-earth sensibilities, cultivated artistic sense and good taste. It seems like museum staff in the natural sciences, history and some other subject areas have more common sense and real taste than many of the art museum types who get weirder and more disconnected from the culture around them the more “educated” they become. I am grateful for your participation here and your questions that are always either well-thought out, or just more bold than many people’s or both. On virtually every car, truck, or rig of any sort that my father owned, he built a photography platform on the roof. I am not sure if Ansel Adams or Edward Weston ever wrote anywhere about the advantages of photographing from the roof, but my father sure did it often. When I started digital photography in 2009, which lead to more photographing in general, especially when driving Dad’s old van I have made frequent use of the photography platform. You might be surprised how often it comes in handy to get up above the fences that line most roadways, improve the view of a roadside lake reflection, or many other advantages that an added 5-7 feet in height provides. Many people today crop out the foreground and make their images into panoramas, but this is less necessary when you merely photograph over the less interesting elements in a given scene. You may find that many large format photographers photographed from their vehicle roofs. I know one time a few months ago in Utah near the San Rafael Swell, a man pulled up behind me while I was set up and photographing on the roof platform. After introductions, he said, “I knew you were a photographer who knew what you were doing when I saw that platform on top of your van.” Of course, I had already explained who my father was, therefore he knew where the ‘knowing what I was doing’ came from.

    Thank you, Sharon for your contribution too. Your additions to the discussion are right on. It is difficult to photograph from the roof in much wind, particularly with my lightweight tripod and 35 mm DSLR Nikon D90. The large format cameras and older heavier cars would certainly have made it easier. I realize in your photography of the ocean, sand and sky that many of the best opportunities come in the highest wind, but I don’t remember Dad often photographing in much wind, unless it was on a mountain top, canyon rim or other inherently windy location. Most cars have stiff enough suspension to hold still for the most part, if you and the wind do. I find I tend to shake the camera more just with my finger lightly depressing the shutter button.

  14. Derrick says:

    Sharon – you may be on to something about the older cars and their shocks. I have a 1936 COE Ford truck at work and those leaf springs in the back are STOUT. David – thanks for the insight! Got any pics you could share of the shooting platform in your van?

    And I’ll be honest with you – the weirdness of some of my peers in the art galleries/museums nearly kept me from ever even sharing any of my images with people other than my friends.

    Great discussion, thanks David!

  15. Mark says:

    I have a copy of this book myself and have still haven’t had the chance to go through it. I quickly flipped though it since it is quite a hefty one. I thought the print reproduction quality could have been better, but it is only an initial, first impression.

    I am looking forward to going more in depth with this book.

  16. Hi Derrick, that’s a good idea to share a photo or two of Dad’s photography platform atop my van. Many people who work in museums tend to squash creativity in others because on some level they have talked themselves out of their own creative impulses through bizarre over-action in the monkey mind. I’m glad you didn’t listen to any of them.

    Thank you, Mark. Astute observation. You’re probably right. The reproduction quality is not as good as it could be in a more expensively produced book.

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