Select one of the keywords
Ansel Adams: Classic Images    by Ansel Adams, James Alinder & John Szarkowski order for
Ansel Adams
by Ansel Adams
Order:  USA  Can
Bulfinch, 2003 (1985)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Looking at the splendid cover photograph and flipping through the pages gives an impression of a clarity of vision, perfect composition, crisp, fresh images, and of course, familiarity. Just as Shakespeare's quotations have become part of the English language, so have Adams' perspectives been absorbed as visual icons. They are ubiquitous, glimpsed often on calendars, in framed reproductions and posters (I have one on the wall at home) and in so many lovely art books. This one includes seventy-five Classic Images selected by the photographer as representative of his work and exhibited as The Museum Set.

John Szarkowski's perceptive introduction attempts to explain the artist's extraordinary popularity. He tells us that Adams knew that 'the landscape is not only a place but an event' and that his 'photographs seem to demonstrate that our world is what we would wish it was - a place with room in it for fresh beginnings.' This is followed by James Alinder's biography essay on the artist's background and achievements. He tells us that Adams, born in 1902, was raised in an idyllic San Francisco location in 'a decade of great change'. He was a hyperactive child, tutored privately for some time, who spent one year in the 'classroom' of the great San Francisco fair to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. He taught himself piano and learned from it both the need for practice and the nature of perfection.

Then a 1916 family visit to Yosemite, along with an introduction to photography, set the course of the artist's life. Alinder tells us that the 'spiritual importance of the mountains' to Ansel's development cannot be overstated. He talks of the photographer's feeling for light, his passion for beauty, his concept of visualization, and the impact of Group f/64 on his work. Adams was eventually awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 'He was a great photographer and a leader in the environmental movement, an impressive musician, a writer of significance ... and a force that became a symbol of a life well spent.' At the back of the book, Alinder provides a useful Chronology of the artist's life and photographs.

But most of the content of this beautiful volume is what we all look for from Ansel Adams - superb black and white images that evoke a range of feelings and a longing to get out in the wilderness. There are the amazing Yosemite photos, such as the Monolith, Bridal Veil Falls, and the cover picture of Moon and Half Dome. There's the famed Moonrise in New Mexico, which puts human life in perspective against an expanse of black sky (Adams often incorporates sky in his images, with a small moon, mist or turbulent clouds.) I love his perspectives on sand dunes and over lakes, and the sequence over time of surf on a beach. Churches, like peaks, are on a height, the view sloping reverently upwards.

I find Dogwood delightful, love the detail of textures in Rose and Driftwood, appreciate the energy in Old Faithful and the power of the huge boulders in front of Mount Williamson. I could rave on, but if you enjoy Ansel Adams' photography as much as I do, this is one art book that you should acquire yourself. It will be opened often.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews