Images of photography relived
A man standing beside a river in the land of his longtime hero. Amazed and awestruck, he half pretends to fish the Merced river as it winds its way through a sheer stone walled valley of a paradise found. It is called the Yosemite National Park and it is new to his eyes although he has seen it many times before. In his memory, this place was known as Ansel Adams country.
Filling his field of vision are giant cobalt blue mountains and golden green pines, rough giant red-trunked Sequoia trees and verdant, lush emerald carpeted grassy plains. Surrounding him are countless picture compositions from the past, long buried in his memory but now exhumed from books, photography, calendars, films and TV of his youth.
An art attack
The epic and giddying mountains such as the Three Sisters, El Capitan and Half Dome all loom bigger than the sky and the man feels humble and justly small. Suddenly the dreamy mood is broken by an electric shock of action. His worshipful solemnity is stolen with a voracious tug on his line. In this place where heaven fell to earth a rainbow fish had suddenly launched a smash attack against his lure and now impaled on a hook was fighting for its very existence.
Unforgettable mental photo
Frantic time unfolded as the fish dived, spun and deviated all over the river. In one exquisite moment, it delivered a hypnotically majestic image so rich and complete it engraved itself on the man’s memory. This mental photo stayed with him to this very day. The desperate fish had leapt six feet or so clear from its cloaking kingdom of water and it’s coat of many colours could be seen momentarily, now glassy and glistening in the late afternoon sun. The greenish, rose-tinted, speckled marvel moved the man deeply.
An image branded on the brain
And as if time had elastically expanded, the man observed in slow motion the manic gyrations of the sparkling creature set against the smoky blue mountains and pale gold of the watery winter sun. In this moment his memory had been branded and the heat of that iron can still be felt today!
This interlude of perfection was a pinnacle of his trip to the American West. Here in this realm, he had got to walk, feel and experience the utter beauty of a place where a photographic colossus had long-time left his monumental tracks. Who did these footprints belong to? The great American photographer Ansel Adams.
Artist, environmentalist, photographer
For many years Ansel Adams wandered through this land and photographed his way into artistic legend and history. Somehow the fish, the landscape and his visual echoes had completed the man’s journey. Probably, as a photographer, Ansel’s best and most famous work was done in and around the Yosemite National Park. His art was made in scenes of pristine ice, biting winds, fathomless snow, cauldron heat and gentle temperate days. He, like no other before him, recorded the utter grandeur and magnificence of the region through the magic of a camera lens.
Photography turned into art form
You are bound to have seen one of his works. His black and white landscape photographs of the American West, especially Yosemite National Park, have been widely reproduced on calendars, posters, books, and the internet. The American photographer (February 20, 1902 – April 22, 1984) also became an environmentalist. He pioneered the movement to preserve the wilderness of the West and also was one of the first to promote photography as an art form.
Large format cameras
He worked ceaselessly with a Hasselblad, a medium-format camera that used 120mm roll film and was and is known for its high-quality lenses. He could also be seen with larger 5X4 plate cameras or even bigger specimens. Anyone who has used these ungainly cameras knows the quality of the image comes at a cost. Because they are cumbersome I marvel how Adams applied himself to taking such kit in the most difficult and inaccessible of places.
Ansel Adams in the zone
He was an artist with light but also clearly an innovator. He and a colleague created the Zone System, (Take a look at here more detailed information). This involved taking light readings of individual scene elements and adjusting exposures based on the photographer’s knowledge of the subject and conditions. It assigned numbers from 0 through 10 to different brightness values, with 0 representing black, 5 middle grey, and 10 pure white; these values became known as zones.
The method required careful metering of individual scene elements and making appropriate adjustments for the major tonal zones of an image to give better exposure values. Basically, a one-zone change was equal to one stop. So this enabled a photographer to render subjects as light, and dark according to the photographer’s interpretation.
Photographic eye for a picture
The brilliance and clarity of Adam’s work owes much to this method of working but for me, the overriding element is his composition. Always considered, balanced and intelligent. Any landscape painter can learn so much from this master photographer and artist.
The man of the river finally saw for himself how the inspiration of a landscape could move a master like Adams that day, and you will be happy to know, I returned the trout as an offering to a true genius.