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The Portfolios of Ansel Adams    by Ansel Adams order for
Portfolios of Ansel Adams
by Ansel Adams
Order:  USA  Can
Bulfinch, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

What makes this collection of Ansel Adams' nature photography stand out from the many others available is that it reflects the artist's own choices in the combinations and order of presentation of his works. The book includes images from seven portfolios, produced from 1932 to 1976, with a total of ninety photographs.

In his Introduction, master photographer John Szarkowski calls Ansel Adams (1902-1984) a triumphant anomaly in modern photography, unusual for his huge constituency across a broad spectrum of admirers. He speaks of Adams 'privileged understanding of the meanings of the natural landscape' and of his skill in translating 'the anarchy of the natural world' into 'perfectly tuned chords of gray'.

Each portfolio comes with a brief introduction. Adams dedicates his Portfolio I (1948) 'images of the endless moments of the world' to Alfred Stieglitz, quoting his comment that 'Art is the affirmation of life.' Images range from distant majestic peaks and a towering cactus to a close composition of vine and rocks. Portfolio II (1950) presents the wilderness beauty of National Parks & Momuments. Portfolio III (1960) presents Adams' beloved Yosemite Valley, of which he says, 'Here are worlds of experience beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond science.'

Portfolio IV (1963) is dedicated to Russell Varian, a man for whom Adams tells us 'nature was a fundamental spiritual reality.' Nancy Newhall tells us that Portfolio V (1970) offers fresh looks at favorite subjects, calling it 'a profound statement by a great photographer' (it seems to me to reflect on the passage of time.) Portfolio VI (1974) presents a different perspective on Adams' 'reactions to man, his works, and nature' with more on man and his works than usual. Finally, Adams tells us that Portfolio VII (1976) 'represents a partial vista of my life in photography.'

Adams' portraits switch between those - like dwarfing peaks, the power of a tall waterfall, or the permanence of rock formations - that inspire feelings of awe, and others - intimate veins on a leaf, wind prints on a dune, or transitory cloud patterns in a big sky - that reflect an intimacy with nature. At the end of his Introduction, Szarkowski calls Adams' pictures precious 'last records, for the young and the future, of what they missed.' I believe that they also remind us to keep focusing on the wonders still around us.

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