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Ansel Adams: America's Photographer    by Beverly Gherman order for
Ansel Adams
by Beverly Gherman
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The cover photograph of this lovely book shows Ansel Adams in one of his favorite places 'on top of mountains'. Though it's a coffee table format 'biography for young people', I enjoyed it very much myself, and learned a great deal about a photographer whose black and white pictures I've always found to be powerful and evocative. It's an accessible biography, in which the author puts in context many of the superb photographs that the artist took during a long life.

From this book I learned that Adams was born in 1902 and lived through most of the twentieth century; that he experienced the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in his childhood home beside the Pacific Ocean; that he was a hyperactive child with a crooked nose and large ears, and was eventually homeschooled; that he was torn between careers as a classical pianist and a photographer (the latter not being especially well regarded in his day); and that Yosemite caught his imagination at the age of fourteen. He never looked back.

The author quotes Ansel Adams as saying 'I know from experience that there are no shortcuts to excellence', and indeed makes it clear in this biography how much went into one of Adams' photographs, from lugging around heavy equipment on mountain trails; to visualizing and then working out specific camera settings for a photo; waiting for the perfect moment to snap the shot; and finally developing skills and techniques in photo-finishing to achieve perfection.

Beverly Gherman tells us that Adams 'sought to inspire rather than shock, because he believed deeply in beauty, and because he always spoke to the positive in humanity rather than the negative.' That, as much as his environmental and conservation efforts, make him still an important role model today. I recommend Ansel Adams : America's Photographer highly to young and old.

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