A Birthday Tribute to Ansel Adams

Sunrise from Jeffrey Point, The Wilds, Muskingum County, Ohio
Sunrise from Jeffrey Point, The Wilds, Muskingum County, Ohio

Today we celebrate the birthday of one of my photographic heroes, Ansel Easton Adams, who was born on February 20, 1902. Ansel would have been 114 years old today.

Occasionally, at my photography workshops and slide presentations, I am asked, “Are you related to Ansel Adams?” Sadly, despite extensive research on ancestry.com, I have yet to establish a family link. If I ever do, I plan to raise my print prices considerably. Although I was never able to attend one of Ansel’s photography workshops, I own many of his books, including an autographed copy of Yosemite and the Range of Light, published in 1979. Together with Eliot Porter and David Muench, Ansel Adams inspired me to forsake the corporate life and embark on a full-time career in landscape photography in 1991.

Lake Erie ice at Eastlake Harbor, Ohio
Lake Erie at Eastlake Harbor, Ohio

I recall standing in line at Publix bookstore in Playhouse Square, Cleveland, where Ansel Adams was signing copies of his monumental new book, Yosemite and the Range of Light. Ansel’s elegant signature, like many of his photographs, was a masterpiece.

Ansel Adams is known mainly for his large-format, black-&-white photographs of the landscapes of the American West, but he also made 3,500 color photographs, some of which were published in a 1993 book, Ansel Adams in Color (Little, Brown, & Company).

Over the course of his long photographic career Ansel produced many pithy, memorable quotations. Here are a few of my favorites:

“Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”

“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

“The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.”

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

Sycamore, Dover, Ohio
Sycamore, Dover, Ohio

During the first decade of my photography career, in the 1990s, I occasionally produced black-&-white images, using 35mm roll film and sometimes 4×5-inch sheets of Kodak Tri-X film in my Sinar F 4×5-inch view camera. I taught myself the basics of the Zone System for film exposure and development, which Ansel Adams co-developed with Fred Archer in 1939-1940, and in 1994 I used a combination of black-&-white and black-&-white infrared sheet film to produce the architectural photographs used to illustrate the 1994 Annual Report of Second Bancorp, a Warren, Ohio client. Although I learned a great deal about large-format landscape photography  from reading many of Ansel Adams’ books, the color photography of Eliot Porter and David Muench had an even greater impact, and most of the large- and medium-format landscape photographs I made in and around the Buckeye State from 1990 to 2002 were taken using Fujichrome Velvia and Provia color transparency film. The Eastlake Harbor image above, and the lacebark pine photograph shown below, were made from scans of color transparencies, converted to black-&-white images using Photoshop. The Wilds sunrise and sycamore tree images were taken as 35mm digital color photographs, using a Nikon D2X camera, then converted to black-&-white using Photoshop. Today I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to create black-&-white renditions of my color landscape photographs.

Lacebark Pine, Dawes Arboretum, Ohio
Lacebark Pine, Dawes Arboretum, Ohio

If you would like to learn more about Ansel Adams, a legion of books have been written by his admirers. Ansel Adams – An Autobiography, with Mary Street Alinder, was published by Little, Brown and Company in 1985, the year after Ansel Adams died. In this 400-page book, complete with 277 illustrations, including many of his most famous images, Adams recalls his childhood in San Francisco, his love of music, his extensive career in photography, and his efforts, particularly with the Sierra Club, to preserve many of the most spectacular natural places of the American West. Ansel Adams – Yosemite and the Range of Light, with a forward by Paul Brooks, was published by Little, Brown, and Company in 1979. This gorgeous, 12×15-inch book includes 116 images, beautifully reproduced, taken in Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada mountains, the places closest to Ansel’s heart and where many of his most famous photographs were taken. Ansel Adams – Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs, published in 1983 by Little, Brown and Company, is a fascinating account in which Adams recalls the people and places, technical details, and aesthetic details associated with forty of his most renowned photographs. There are several YouTube videos about Ansel Adams, and you can find out more about his remarkable career and enjoy his photographs by visiting The Ansel Adams Gallery.

Happy birthday, Ansel, and thank you for your enormous contribution to photography and the conservation of America’s natural heritage.



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