(United States of America 20 Feb 1902 – 22 Apr 1984)
18.7 x 23.5 cm image/sheet; 21.0 x 26.3 cm card
‘To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things.’ Ansel Adams 1948 1
A contemporary of the modernist photographer Edward Weston, Ansel Adams’s approach diverged from Weston’s in his almost exclusive dedication to landscape photography and the environment. Together with Weston, Imogen Cunningham and others, Adams established Group f/64 who aimed to produce sharp focus prints by closing the aperture to its finest point, increasing the depth of field. The resulting prints were rich in tone and depth. It was this almost scientific approach, together with a kind of inherent belief in the autonomy of the image, that furthered Adams’s visual investigations into a tonal technique that he called the ‘zone system’. The sharp, even focus of his photographs, the extensive range of tones which were achieved by his technique of revealing light as it was reflected from the surface of the object, were all part of his ‘previsualisation’ technique in which he saw the photograph in his mind prior to releasing the shutter.
When Adams shot ‘Sierra Nevada near Lone Pine’ he had been documenting the area for 20 years, capturing the changing seasons of a wilderness region that would lead him to join the environmental group, the Sierra Club. The image is distributed in roughly even thirds: the sharp mountain peaks in the distance, the rolling dark hills intercepted by a meditative valley and the foreground of low-lying scrub; each visually folding into the other in a continual movement, drawing the eye into the monumental landscape much as it did Adams’s lens. Adams’s preconception of the image not only engaged his eye and subsequently the lens with the landscape, but also framed a small part of the wilderness for the viewer, providing a glimpse into his spiritual identification with nature and his belief that ‘the negative is the score; the print is the performance’. 2
1. Jussim E 1991, 'The mind sees, the eyes obey', 'Edward Weston, Ansel Adams: through their own eyes', Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington p 18
2. Adams A in ibid p 13
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Donna Brett, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'A postwar modernist vision', pg.209-225, Sydney, 2007, 217 (illus.).