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Ansel Adams in Color
by Ansel Adams
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2001 (1993)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

We're conditioned to black and white from this photographer, so I didn't know quite what to expect from Ansel Adams in Color. Paging through the fifty pictures (selected from over 3000 of the artist's color transparencies), I found the sweeping compositions of the American wilderness that I had anticipated, displaying the grandeur and immensity of the natural world.

Color softens them somewhat and reduces the dramatic effect. Though I generally prefer Adams' black and white perspectives, some of these color images really stand out. I love the tones and textures in a photo of a Pool (full of dead branches) in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite, the shadows on green and orange in Waimea Canyon, Hawaii, and the misty shades of green in Mammoth Pool, Yellowstone National Park.

The blues and greys in a photo of White Branches and Clouds at Mono Lake, California caught my eye, as did the velvety pink and mossy green of Caladium Leaves. I love mountains and have trekked in the Himalaya, Africa and New Zealand, wondering how such majesty could possibly be conveyed through photographs. I especially enjoy Adams' pictures of cliffs, peaks and summits, in which color brings out the beauty in stark rock - Manly Beacon in Death Valley is one that stands out, as does the cover photo of Late Evening, Monument Valley, Utah.

In his introductory essay, Quest for Color, James Enyeart tells us that Adams explored color for over forty years, but had 'deep feelings of self-doubt in respect to his own color efforts.' He gives us a historical prespective on color photography, beginning with hand coloring of photographs in the 1840s and continuing through to modern dye-transfer color printing. The public was enthusiastic about the medium, but the artist generally was not. Though Adams found technical control of color photography difficult, and from all his professional work in color, says that 'I made only a few that pleased me aesthetically', he still recognized its future potential.

At the end of the book are Adams' Selected Writings on Color Photography, mostly excerpts from letters and articles. In one he warns against the temptation 'to take advantage of superficially exciting color' and in another talks about the 'trap of reality', but the most interesting to me were those that reveal the man behind the artist, such as ... 'Some people feel I am prostituting my very eternal soul in doing the various commercial jobs I am doing. Let them pay the bills!'

Ansel Adams in Color makes one wonder what the artist would have produced if he'd lived only a little later or longer.

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