Book Review: Ansel Adams In The National Parks: Photographs From America’s Wild Places
Highlights Of And About The Essays And The Photographs
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.