Ansel Adams - Overview
Born on the 20th of Feb 1902, Ansel Easton Adams was an American environmentalist and a great photographer. He is particularly known to the world as black and white landscape photography, who captured the American West in such a beautiful way that the legacy he left behind is unmatchable. Adams' photographs of the Yosemite National Park are still reproduced on posters, calendars, as well as in books.
In association with Fred Archer, Adams worked on the Zone System, and was successful in developing it. The objective behind the development of the Zone System was to establish proper exposure so that the contrast could be adjusted while making the final print. The clarity that resulted in the photographs as a result of the Zone System became the characteristic of the Adams' photography. Primarily, Adams made use of the large-format cameras. The main reason behind this preference was that the high resolution of these cameras ensured that the images were sharp enough.
Adams' Black and White Photography
It will not be wrong to say that the black and white photographs produced by Ansel Adams are one of the most outstanding examples of nature photography that has ever been done by any landscape photography. The way he captured the American West, from painted deserts to national parks, from river valleys to mountain lakes, resulted in his images developing a permanent slot in the consciousness of the nation, as they started to envision the natural beauty of the country through Adams' camera.
Adams is popularly known because of his black and white images, and it comes as a surprise to many people when they come across the fact that he Adams started color photography soon after the invention of Kodachrome, which was invented in the mid of 1930s and that when he died in the year 1984, he had captured 3,5000 colored photographs. Even though, he gave the permission for publishing his pictures during his lifetime, he never took the initiative to print the pictures himself, or not for the public at least. Adams always believed that the color processes that existed during the time were capable of producing results that could be compared with the vivid visual deliberation, and therefore he was of the view that the luxuriance of his black and white work was the best approach towards photography. In simple and rather blunt words, Adams did not reckon that he could moderate the results of photography with color, and for him control over any artistic processes was extremely crucial. However, he paid significant importance to the richness of color transparencies, and always sought the day when it would become possible for him to print the images that he shot and that too according to his own paramount standards. This is what led him to write a book pertaining to the theory of colors, and that is when he started practicing his photography at the most.
During the time when Adams started photography, the color technology was improving. Even though the age of digital photography had not yet arrived, the use of black and white film had started becoming obsolete and old fashioned. Analysts believe that irrespective of the shot taken by a landscape photographer, outstanding or average, the beauty to the image is added by the color of the scenery. Needless to say, it is expected that the beauty of such landscapes would be lost if they were captured in black and white film.
Adams used the same scenery as the other landscape photographers, but never considered color important for photography. Generally, he is considered an especially of lighting and appreciated its significance in landscape photography. However, he always made sure that he waited for the exact and the perfect moment in the appropriate conditions to capture an image. Most of the times, the pictures captured by Adams depicted a different image altogether as compared to his counterparts.
According to the experts, there are two main reasons why Adams preferred black and white photography over colored. The first reason is that he believed that the color could prove to be distracting. This implies that he was of the view that color had the power to divert the attention of an artist, away from achieving his goal of capturing the best scenes when taking pictures. Experts also believe that Adams had claimed that he could achieve a way better sense of color by making use of well-planned black and white picture, which has been well-executed. He claimed that the kind of great sense that could be achieved...
This development led to the introduction of the idea of "previsualisation." The aforementioned term meant that the photographer would imagine what he wanted the finally printed image to look like, even before taking the picture. Such methods and ideas made it possible for almost complete control over all the potential variables that could influence the final picture. Since Adams had an especially kind of love for control, he always disapproved of colors because he believed that the color photography did not have the aspects that would allow him to master photography (Adams 67).
Ansel Adams and the Zone System
As mentioned earlier, the great photographer Ansel Adams was the developer of the Zone System. He was assisted by his friend and colleague Fred Archer. While Adams gained significant popularity because of his specialization in the black and white landscape photography, Fred Archer was well-known for his portrait photography in Hollywood. The purpose behind the development of the Zone System or Zone printing was to determine the approach or a systematic framework so that development of the pictures and the exposure could be determined. Adams believed that pictures could be filmed and replicated with the help of this system, and would also aid in the concept of previsualization. To summarize the purpose behind the development of the Zone System, it will not be wrong to say that the two photographers sought to develop a system that would involve the least amount of trial and error when it came to their area of interest.
Even though, the target of the Zone System was black and white photography, as well as the films, it has also been made use of in digital and color photography.
The tones of white and black are divided by the Zone System. Tones of white range from white with no detail to black with no detail. Apart from that it also covers all the grays that lie between these ranges, and hence there are 11 Zones, starting from the number 0. On the other hand, the same scale can be used for the color equivalent of the tone of gray. Zone V, which is the middle zone, depicts the neutral gray color (Davis 44).
Adams' Contribution and Significance to Photography
In the year 1966, Adams was nominated as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Similarly, in the wake of his great achievements in the field of photography, he was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter. The fact that Adams was awarded with the highest civilian honor of the nation is adequate to explain the significance of Adams in photography.
The Tetons and the Snake River, which was a photograph of Adam, was one of the 115 pictures that were made a part of the Voyager Golden Record. The purpose behind the selection of these pictures was to put across information about plants, humans, and animals, along with the geological characteristics of the Earth to a civilization that was possibly alien.
One of the greatest impacts that he made on photography was that he helped to elevate the rank of photography to art, an art that came at par with music and painting, and had the same potential of expressing beauty and emotion. Experts claim that he often told his pupils that it is rather simple to capture an image, but it is difficult to create a masterpiece in this art that it was any other medium.
John Szarkowski (1976), an art critic, has written that Ansel Adams trained himself in a way that was more precise than any other photographer before him to an imaginary comprehension of the desired quality of the light that was being shed on a certain place at a certain moment in time he further went on to say that Adams never considered natural landscape as a solid or fixed sculpture, but he considered it as an insubstantial image.
Preservation of Nature
Even as a young boy, Adams enjoyed his life in the sand dunes and hiked…
Adams, Ansel. Ansel Adams, an Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1985.
Davis, Phil. Beyond the Zone System. 4th ed. Boston: Focal Press, 1999.
Goldbloom, J. "Remembering the Kenmore" in Philly Art Walks, 1990.
Read, Michael. Michael Read, ed. Ansel Adams, New light: Essays on His Legacy and Legend. San Francisco: The Friends of Photography, 1993.
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