Setting out on a daring hike early in the morning of April 17th, 1927, Ansel Adams – along with then fiancée Virginia Best and good friends Charlie Michael and Arnold Williams – would conclude a day’s worth of photographing by making an image that would define his career: Monolith, The Face of Half Dome. The resulting image was Ansel’s “first true visualization” (a summation of the emotional process that went into making a photograph), and a revelation from combining technical cunning with artistic principle. In fact years later, while reminiscing about this day with assistant John Sexton in the context of a lifelong pursuit, Ansel mock confessed, “Maybe I should just have stopped then.” The image itself has stood the test of time and is to this day one of the most recognizable made within the history of the medium. Add to this the fact that Half Dome is one of the most photographed landscape icons on the planet, and the impact that Monolith has had, and continues to have within a crowded arena, begins to come into focus. To this day, exactly 90 years later, Monolith remains an inspiration to professional and amateur photographers alike, is a testament to creativity, ingenuity and conviction of pursuit, and speaks to the success of the National Park ideal as well as the importance of protected, public lands. Here is to 90 years of distinction!
The wilderness instills in us the feeling of being uninhibited, creative and free; we are completely reliant on collective abilities in these places to undertake, protect and enjoy such an experience.
In 1943, one of America’s best-known photographers documented one of the best-known internment camps.
Seventy-five years ago, nearly 120,000 Americans were incarcerated because of their Japanese roots after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. More than 10,000 were forced to live in the hastily built barracks of Manzanar—two thirds of whom were American citizens by birth. Located in the middle of the high desert in California’s Eastern Sierra region, Manzanar would become one of the best-known internment camps—and in 1943, one of America’s best-known photographers, Ansel Adams, documented daily life there.
As Richard Reeves writes in his history of Japanese-American internment, Adams was friends with the camp’s director, who invited him to the camp in 1943. A “passionate man who hated the idea of the camps,” he hoped to generate sympathy for the internees by depicting the stark realities of their lives. As a result, many of his photos paint a heroic view of internees—people “born free and equal,” as the title of his book collecting the photos insists.
Ansel Adams made this image around 1959 with an 8″ x 10″ view camera. The image was once used in a commercial job, as he recalls in “Ansel Adams: An Autobiography:”
“In 1969, for one of my last commercial jobs, I selected a photograph, “Yosemite Valley , Winter”…for reproduction on a Hills Brothers coffee can. The idea was to produce something of lasting attractiveness after the original contents of the can had been consumed…Potentially corny: actually reasonable. There were thousands of three-pound cans filled with coffee sold nationwide in grocery stores for $2.35 each.”
When she saw the coffee cans, reliably acerbic Imogen Cunningham criticized him for selling out. Cunningham had shown her work alongside Adams and Edward Weston in the 1932 Group f/64 Exhibition at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco . To make her point, she had a friend deliver one of the cans filled with manure complete with a sprouting marijuana plant dubbing it a “pot in a pot.”
Ansel Adams took the ribbing well, saying:
“I enjoyed Imogen’s joke, but when my good friend and fellow photographer Henry Gilpin, then deputy sheriff of Monterey County, dropped by and spotted the plant he quietly suggested that I destroy it. I did.”
In addition to being ‘published’ on the coffee can, it is on the cover of Yosemite and the High Sierra.
Hospitality: 5:00 p.m.
Presentation: 6:00 p.m.
312 Sutter Street, Suite 500, San Francisco, CA
Michael Adams will give an illustrated talk about Ansel Adam’s life and legacy, including the photographer’s youth in San Francisco, his exposure to music, and his relationship to the landscape of Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada, and the Southwest. The talk will be accompanied by a slideshow of some of Ansel Adam’s most beloved photographs.
Michael Adams was born in the Yosemite Valley and was educated at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, and Stanford University. He received a B.A. in Geography from Fresno State College, and his M.D. from Washington University School of Medicine. In addition to his private medical practice, Michael has also served as a fighter pilot for the United States Air Force and the California Air National Guard in Japan and New Mexico, and as a flight surgeon/pilot physician in Germany and Fresno, California. He retired from the USAF and Air National Guard in 1993, as a Major General and from duty as Deputy Surgeon General of the USAF for the Air National Guard.
Michael is Chairman of the Board of the Ansel Adams Gallery, now in its 114th year of operation in Yosemite Valley. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco Medical School, Department of Medicine, and teaches in the UCSF Fresno Residency Training Program. Michael has been an advisor to the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson, where the Ansel Adams photographic archive is located. He is a Council member of the Yosemite Conservancy.
Ansel Adams made this image with an 8″ x 10″ view camera sometime before 1959. The specific date is unknown, but astronomers at Texas State University in San Marcos dated a similar image, “Autumn Moon,” to 7:03 PM September 15, 1948 .
The image captures the moon rising over the Clark Range southeast of Glacier Point. When the moon is full, its light reflects off Yosemite’s bare granite walls bathing the south central high country in an ethereal glow that has made nighttime hiking popular in this area of the park.
The moon was a key element in some of Ansel Adams’ photographs, notably “Moonrise” made in 1941 at Hernandez , New Mexico . His technical expertise enabled him to make exposures that reveal the detail of the moon’s craters and seas.
Ansel Adams made this image on a chilly late autumn morning in 1939 with an 8″ x 10″ view camera and 10-inch Kodak Wide-Field Ektar lens. The Cathedral Rocks loom in the background. He took the photo from west side of the El Capitan bridge over the Merced River in Western Yosemite Valley .
Over time, Adams printed the negative of ”Merced River, Cliffs, Autumn” in different ways, initially printing it very brightly and later using more dramatic tones as in the Yosemite Special Edition version. In Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs , Adams writes that he had “not yet made a print that fully satisfies” and goes on to consider how he would have visualized the image in color:
“I can imagine a very quiet and luminous effect of subdued hues; the elements here that made a black-and-white image difficult would be most favorable to color photography. The low contrast of the subject would be compatible with color processes. … Few subjects lend themselves to both black-and-white and color image concepts.”
Though Ansel Adams claimed to dislike color photography, he did produce an accomplished body of work in color and even tested color films for Eastman Kodak. A selection of his color photographs appear in the posthumously published Ansel Adams: In Color. (Ansel had a love-hate relationship with color photography, primarily because he could not control it)
Merced River, Cliffs, Autumn appeared with the title “Merced River, Cliffs of Cathedral Rocks, Autumn” in “Portfolio III, Yosemite Valley” published by the Sierra Club in 1960. It was included in the 2001-2003 traveling museum exhibition Ansel Adams at 100 and companion book. The photograph also appears in Ansel Adams Monograph (out of print), entitled Autumn, Yosemite National Park, Yosemite, Yosemite and the High Sierra, Yosemite and the Range of Light (out of print), Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs, Our National Parks, and Classic Images, the book based on the Museum Set Collection, a retrospective portfolio of what Adams considered his strongest work.
The “artistic interpretation” of Yosemite, a place steeped in visual mythology and hewing tradition, is not to be taken or enacted lightly. As a summation of this long standing relationship between park and art, local painter Penny Otwell has said: “Drawing and painting in Yosemite all these years has taught me to see well!” Pages upon pages of graphite, ink and gouache laced paper that turn into canvases caked with oils and acrylics have directly participated in the invention, reinvention and even rejuvenation the ideal of the National Parks. And helping to advance this historical path is Ms. Otwell – who has been painting Yosemite since 1964. Otwell says, “The rhythm found in a “cooled granite flow” is what I’m after in my paintings. Nature’s rhythmic design offers the most interesting shapes for a painter, along with unusual negative space, color, angles, and most important, the very fine light found at higher elevations.”
The exhibition “Mountain Rhythm,” featuring new work by Penny Otwell, is on display at The Ansel Adams Gallery through November 2nd. This show includes en plein air and studio paintings that began as a field sketches which outlined the structure of geologic forms at work in Yosemite National Park. We hope you have an opportunity to visit The Gallery in Yosemite Village to see Penny’s work in person. See Penny Otwell’s current artwork.
Penny Otwell Artist’s Statement
The rhythm and design in the natural world motivates me to paint Yosemite’s granite forms left in the path of ancient glaciers. Since 1964 I have been drawing Yosemite and over 50 years of experience in this remarkable place has had a profound emphasis on my work today.
I am a self-taught painter inspired by Yosemite, but the real joy comes from painting it. I feel a deep connection to this place and a specific curiosity about the landscape. Hiking the trails over the years has given me confidence being outdoors. I “show up” most days to paint. Works are started with drawing or painting “en plein air” either on a linen support or in a field sketchbook. Some paintings are painted entirely outdoors from start to finish.
Being a painter is like being a scientist: the facts are in front of you, the arrangements are endless, conditions, premises, and conclusions all determine each painting. The “what if?” is constantly pulling at my sleeve! Conducting these experiments culminates in a collaboration of materials for a painting style uniquely my own.
What starts outdoors slowly changes into a carefully edited composition with many paint layers. I push back and forth, adding and subtracting with some reality, some abstraction, design, line, rhythm, value, and color. I love my job!
THE ANSEL ADAMS GALLERY
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA 95389