San Diego Museum Unveils ‘Fragile Waters’ Exhibit

Interviews and previews – read more about this exhibit

FRAGILE WATERS is a powerful artistic and ecological statement through the inspiring black and white images of three renowned photographers and environmentalists – Ansel Adams, Ernest H. Brooks II, and Dorothy Kerper Monnelly. The traveling exhibition of 119 photographs, many not previously exhibited, takes viewers from the snow-melt of the High Sierras at 12,000 feet elevation to far below the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. All three artists have spent their lives near an ocean; all three have used their strong “integrity of place” to protect the sanctity of the environment through the universal language of black and white photography. Designed to engage the viewer in a respectful and emotional connection to our most precious resource, FRAGILE WATERS suggests our ability to change the course of the future.

FRAGILE WATERS calls attention to water, the critical resource, in all its beauty and power, inviting the viewer to engage with interpretations of three dynamic and dedicated photographers. From Ansel Adam’s first magical trip to Yosemite at 14, Ernest H. Brooks II’s first scuba dive at 13, and Dorothy Kerper Monnelly’s infatuation with the salt marshes at 18, these photographers each have lived their conviction, passion and commitment, and now share it through FRAGILE WATERS. Brooks and Monnelly have each been referred to as the “Ansel Adams” of their genres. Environmental degradation raises growing concerns. Restoration and preservation of the Earth’s aquatic ecosystems – her Fragile Waters – is far more compelling through the empathetic lens of each of these environmental stewards.

Water is more than a resource; it is essential to all life we know. In a time of blatant disregard for the sanctity of the environment, this exhibition focuses on the beauty of pure free-flowing water, of reflections and light, of water forms such as rain clouds, ice and icebergs, and of life in water, providing us access to a world we may never otherwise know. Brooks, Monnelly and Adams, all are devoted to nature, and that energy flows through their images. Integrating the work of these three artists into a cohesive exhibit multiplies its impact many times over.

Ansel Adams
Tetons & Snake River, 1942
Grand Teton National, WY
® Courtesy Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Dorothy Kerper Monnelly
Witch Island, Daybreak,
2002 Ipswich, MA
® Dorothy Kerper Monnelly

Ernest H. Brooks II
Magnificent Blue, 1981
Anacapa Passage, CA
® Ernest H. Brooks II

Jeanne Falk Adams/Curator
organized by

Ansel Adams’ Son to Open Photo Exhibit’s West Coast Premiere

The son of Ansel Adams, whose photos helped expand the national park system, will attend the opening festivities of the West Coast premiere of “Fragile Waters.”

The traveling display of 119 photographs, many not previously exhibited, will be at the Maritime Museum of San Diego and feature black and white images by environmentalists Adams, Ernest H. Brooks II and Dorothy Kerper Monnelly.

Book review: ‘Ansel Adams in Yosemite Valley: Celebrating the Park at 150’

From age 14, photographer and conservationist Ansel Adams (1902–1984) visited Yosemite Valley annually.

Adams once said: “Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”

Market Snapshot: Ansel Adams

Landscape photographer and environmental activist Ansel Adams’s lucid black and white photographs of the American wilderness helped establish photography as a legitimate art form. A half-century later, there is still an unimpeachable interest in his work at virtually any price point.

“Ansel’s work seems to be sort of a ‘gold standard’ in the photography market,” the artist’s grandson Matthew Adams, president of the Ansel Adams Gallery, told artnet via email. “His work has appreciated, and does fluctuate with the market in general, but doesn’t see the extreme highs and lows that we sometimes see with other photographers’ work.”

Ansel Adams Vintage Photographs

Banner Peak, Thousand Island Lake

Banner Peak, Thousand Island Lake. A vintage photograph by Ansel Adams. Negative date – 1923, Print date – 1927

“Vintage” is a term in photography that has both a very specific meaning, and unfortunately a slightly ambiguous definition when putting it into practice.  A “vintage” print is a print that is made around the time the negative was made, which is pretty clear. The question becomes, if a negative was made in 1927, would you still consider a print to be made in 1929 a “vintage” print? What about 1930? 1932? If you say one year date, why that year and not the next, or the previous? Why does it matter? With Ansel’s work, not only is the basic question confounding, but Ansel himself was notorious for not remembering the dates of negatives, and generally didn’t date the print until the late 1970s. As always, there are nuances.

Roaring River Falls , King’s River Canyon. A vintage photograph by Ansel Adams. Negative date – 1925, Print date – 1927

Ansel’s first foray into fine art photography, the Parmelian Print portfolio, was made in 1927 and included images from as early as 1921 (Grove of Tamarack Pines [sic]) and 1923 (Banner Peak, Thousand Island Lake). These would be considered “vintage” by most collectors and critics, but is it representative of the term? The negative of Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, was made in 1927; would a print made in 1932 still be considered “vintage”? For these early images, Ansel made a transition to smooth gelatin silver photographic paper around 1931-32, which to us is the cutoff material for considering early negatives as “vintage”. It isn’t scientific, but we think reasonable given how information on those prints is either very definitive (1927 Parmelian Print portfolio, 1930 Sierra Club Outing) or not at all (Monolith on parchment paper, no letterpress title). After 1930, things get a lot trickier. Photographs printed in the 1930s tend to be dated more often based on the mount board material and the label or stamp on the reverse. With these, if the negative date is 1935 or later, and the mount reflects a 30s era, it is safe to assume it can be designated “vintage”. With negatives dated between 1930 and 1935, fiber based silver gelatin prints on the 1930s mount boards, there is less certainty. Early for sure, but it brings us back to the question of how close to the negative date qualifies as “vintage”.

Icicles, Ahwahnee Hotel a vintage photograph by Ansel Adams. Negative date – 1935, Print date – late 1930s

The late 30s and 40s were a very productive period for Ansel: Clearing Winter Storm (1938); Moonrise, Hernandez (1941); and the Manzanar “Born Free and Equal” project (1944) among others. Ansel was very engaged in big projects during the 1940s, the Mural Project before America entered the war, the Manzanar Project in 1943-4, helping to found the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, teaching in Yosemite, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and two Guggenheim Fellowships at the end of the decade. Prints from this period are rare, and hard to identify with absolute certainty. In the absence of purchase documentation, we have to go by labels for date periods; the best research on this matter is by Haas & Senf, Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Juniper, a vintage photograph by Ansel Adams. Negative date – 1930, Print date – 1930.

While Ansel was still quite active after 1950, he did not go into the field nearly as much as he had previously, and there are simply fewer photographs made later, and thus fewer potential “vintage” prints. The well-known images from late in Ansel’s career, Aspens, Northern New Mexico and Moon and Half Dome have a few image idiosyncrasies that help identify the prints as vintage. Without those factors, we have to rely more on the mount boards and stamps to estimate the print dates. With no industry standard, we say a “vintage” photograph is within approximately five years of the negative. So why does it matter? In general, “the market” places a higher value on vintage photographs. There are fewer in number, due to both less demand at that time and the mishaps of the years.

At Timberline, a vintage photograph by Ansel Adams. Negative date – 1930, Print date – 1930s

Collectors and art historians believe that vintage prints are more true to the original visualization, perhaps “more” original? Ansel personally didn’t buy into the argument that earlier was better, he thought that as he got to know a negative, he could get more out of it. In some cases, the tones are more appealing for a particular image, either from the original paper or the patina of age. As in all cases, each collector needs to reflect on his or her preferences, and make individual relative value judgments.

Bishop Pass, the Inconsolable Range, a vintage photograph by Ansel Adams. Negative date – 1930, Print date – 1930.

New Release – Monolith, the Face of Half Dome as a Modern Replica

Monolith-Face-of-Half-Dome-596x800Just released as a Modern Replica in Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Yosemite Grant. Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, 1927 by Ansel Adams


About Monolith, the Face of Half Dome (from Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs)

At the age of 14, Adams first recorded the Yosemite monolith known as Half Dome, with his Kodak Box Brownie. Eleven years later he made this image with a view camera and a glass plate negative.

On an April morning in 1927, Adams undertook a difficult four-thousand-foot climb through heavy snow to the granite outcropping known as the Diving Board, where he set up his 6 1/2 x 8 1/2-inch view camera, inserted a glass plate, and waited for the light to fall directly on the sheer granite cliff. He made one exposure with a yellow filter. Then it occurred to him that if he used a dark red filter, both sky and cliff would register darker in the finished print than in the actual scene. He changed to the red filter, with this dramatic result. He described this episode as his first “visualization” — his attempt to express the emotional and aesthetic feelings he felt at the time he made the photograph. Adams considered it a seminal moment in his development as a photographer.

A Yosemite Year – A Photographer’s Almanac April 2014 (Continued)

A Quiet Day in The Mariposa Grove by Mike Reeves
Mike Reeves, Staff Photographer

For April’s post I wanted to show an image I took under what could be called making the best of a bad situation. In April 2012 I had been enjoying lunch along the river when I unfortunately cracked a tooth on what I was eating. Yosemite has a great dentist but he was out of town. I called around and the only place I could find to take me was in Oakhurst, nearly an hour and a half away. After getting down there and having my tooth looked at, I found myself with just a couple of hours until not only the sun went down, but also a couple hours until the Novocain would wear off as well.

A Quiet Day in The Mariposa Grove by Mike Reeves – All Rights Reserved

Whenever I am in the area, I like to stop by the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The area had seen some rain in the preceding days, and although the trails were muddy, the trees soaked up the rain and were quite colorful. The area near The Bachelor and The Three Graces was particularly interesting to me as the forest seemed to glow as the sun went down. The entire area was overcast, but light was bouncing around in the sky which illuminated the scene. I used a polarizer to eliminate the sheen of the bark, and carefully checked my composition to create a pleasing scene.

The image is simple but has many elements of contrast that I like. Normally in photography we refer to contrast as the difference between light and dark, but in this sense we can take the elements of the image one step further. A sense of tall and short is seen, with a small tree being dwarfed by the many giants around it. This also leads to a feeling of old and young which in this case is nearly 2,500 years. I like to show this image on many of my walks and classes to help participants go a little deeper into not only what the photograph, but why they photograph.

A Yosemite Year – A Photographer’s Almanac April 2014 (Continued)

 Misty Sunrise from Tunnel View by Kirk Keeler

Kirk Keeler, Staff Photographer

From time to time, I will do some pre-planning to be in the right place at the right time to capture a natural phenomenon, such as a full moon rising behind a certain peak like Half Dome or Cathedral Peak.  Using software, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris, or Apps like Michael Frye’s Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, help me make educated decisions about what time to be in a location and where I should be standing in order to have that sun or moon in near perfect positioning with the Yosemite icon of my choice.  Sometimes, I’ll even double check my positioning with an old-school 7.5 minute topo map.  It’s all part of the joy of trying to make real what I see in my mind as a nice composition.

Other times – Let’s say more times than most – a composition presents itself in the moment.  Ansel used to say, “Luck favors the prepared mind”, meaning that all the day-to-day practice behind the camera, getting quicker and quicker at maneuvering the dials, buttons and focus, will pay off when a glorious moment presents itself.  One of those moments came for me on April 8th, 2013, on my way to work early in the morning.

Misty Sunrise from Tunnel View by Kirk Keeler – All Rights Reserved

I was driving into Yosemite Valley via the southern entrance, Hwy. 41.  I began my drive just as the eastern horizon was lighting up – a little before 6:30am.  About an hour later I got to the long tunnel, a long gauntlet for many a visitor, which is rewarded on the other side with one of the world’s most wondrous views – Yosemite Valley unfolds instantly before the eyes!  It had snowed the night before and the storm and its clouds were lifting.

I instantly made the left turn into the Tunnel View parking lot, seeing that the conditions were exciting for photography.  I quickly got out of my car with my gear and ran over to the lookout, setting up the tripod in my favorite spot.  After about ten minutes of picture taking, I noticed that an area above Bridalveil Fall was getting very bright – a signal to me that the sun would be rising there any second.  I quickly repositioned the camera and almost instantly the sun began to rise.  I visualized having a sunburst effect emanating from the sun, requiring the aperture to be set at its biggest number, which for my lens was f22.  I bracketed my exposures, in the event that I would need to use HDR to improve the detail in post processing the final photograph.  The hardest part was constantly adjusting my shutter speed as the sun rose to maintain the correct exposure. It happened very vast and within a few minutes, the sun had fully risen and the clouds had dramatically changed, completely altering the feel of the scene.

April can be a very diverse month, weather-wise, in Yosemite Valley.  Within one week, the Valley can experience a snow storm, then 75 degree temperatures within days.  Visitation is just starting to ramp up, depending on when spring breaks and Easter happen.  If you want the chance of a snowstorm like I have photographed, perhaps plan your visit for early April.  If you do, show up to Tunnel View on April 8th and the sun should rise right where I photographed it.  Make sure you have your tripod just to the right of the NPS interpretive sign.  If you’re a few days late – no problem!  Just move more to the right and you should line up just as I have.  Pay attention to the tall, flat-topped tree on the right edge of my photo.  Moving too far to the right might put it directly in front of Bridalveil fall!  If you come around April 1st, try setting up to the left of the interpretive sign.  Above all, look for the bright glow in the neighborhood of the middle peak of the Three Graces and adjust your position the moment the sun rises.

Tunnel View is about a 15 – 20 minute drive from Yosemite Village.  Get onto Northside drive and follow the exit signs towards Hwy 41/Wawona/Glacier Point.  Tunnel View is about 2 miles from the entrance to Bridalveil Fall.  In early April, you most likely will have the view to yourself, plus a few staff photographers from The Ansel Adams Gallery!

A Yosemite Year – A Photographer’s Almanac April 2014

Michael Wise, Staff Photographer

I’ve heard some say this winter season has been a disappointment. Photography-wise. Where are the dramatic snowy valley scenes, the snow “cones” and frazil ice, the water in horsetail falls?

It may be a good thing that Yosemite still feels new to me even after three years. I still don’t know what to expect. The year I arrived the water levels were record high. The following two have been some of the driest. I have no idea of what to think of as ‘normal.’

It’s true that snowy vistas are awe inspiring and create a wonderful sense of purity and silence. An experience I will welcome again. But without the obvious targets, the more subtle subjects are revealed.

Reveal - Yosemite National Park

Reveal, Yosemite National Park, 2014 © by Michael Wise – All Rights Reserved


My image “Reveal – Yosemite National Park” documents one such surprise. It shows Vernal Falls at low flow. I was intrigued by the interaction of the water and the eerie rock formations behind. The powerful roar of water and the heavy mist on my face were not present. Instead, these other fundamental elements were.

A Yosemite Year – A Photographer’s Almanac March 2014 (Continued)

Trees in Snowstorm, Cooks Meadow
by Kirk Keeler

Kirk Keeler, Staff Photographer

Snow in Yosemite Valley has been infrequent the last two winters.  I moved to Yosemite in March of 2010, during a snowstorm.  The following March (2011), the inhabitants of the park experienced what has affectionately become known as ‘Snowmageddon’; a series of snowstorms that dropped several feet onto the valley floor and well over ten feet in the higher elevations.  The park had to close for a few days while crews cleared roads and restored power.

If you happen to be here during a significant snowfall, you can experience quite a transformation!  Trees that were snow-free and green when you arrived can alter to white snow-sculptures, many of their tops curling back toward the ground from the weight of snow.  Trails get erased from the landscape.  Meadows become vast open spaces, devoid of most things that signal signs of life.  Perhaps this is why snow is so often referred to as a blanket, as it is the insulator between the air and fertile ground.


Trees in Snowstorm, Cooks Meadow © by Kirk Keeler –  All rights reserved

In March 2012, after a fairly dry January and February, March signaled a shift in precipitation, bringing with it several beautiful winter storms to Yosemite.  It was during one of these storms that I had a digital camera class scheduled.  When the students arrived to the gallery, the storm hadn’t really began yet, so I told them we could begin outside and if conditions got too snowy, cold, or otherwise miserable, we could spend the remaining class time in the warm workshop room.  They were game!

I brought them out to the edge of Cooks Meadow to begin the class, which was about the same time a few flakes began to drop.  After an introduction to histograms and exposure underneath the shelter of the Black Oaks, I brought them out to the middle of the meadow to experience a different perspective and present new compositions.  This was the same moment that the storm really kicked into gear.  Large flakes began to fall and storm clouds crept their way down to the valley floor, erasing any evidence that 3000’ cliffs ever existed in Yosemite Valley.  As I turned back to look where our first stop was, this scene stared right back at me!

Many times, I teach about simplifying compositions by picking out certain aspects of the larger scene.  In this scene, the weather did that for me by eliminating everything except the trees and the snowflakes falling.  My students and I worked several compositions from this spot and this one felt the strongest.  I chose a shutter speed of 1/180 to suggest some movement, yet still give an impression to the size of the flakes.  There is a feeling of perspective – as one looks at a city-scape where the tallest building is located near center while the buildings retreat behind it, getting smaller toward the edges of the scene.  Only…these ‘buildings’ are trees in nature.  The feeling of perspective is heightened by the closest trees being sharp, while the trees behind them have a mistiness to them; an effect painters have used for many centuries to induce the effect of distance.      After spending some time here, the students and myself began to get cold and our equipment was getting wet.  We retreated back to the gallery and to the warm refuge of the workshop room, where I finished teaching the remaining Digital Camera class.  Despite the cold, the students enjoyed the adventure of capturing images during the snowstorm.

If photographing snowstorms sounds exciting, then March is a wonderful time to visit Yosemite Valley.  Crowds are still non-existent and snowstorms like the one I captured can happen regularly.  If you’d like to photograph a snowstorm in Cooks Meadow, I suggest parking on Northside Drive near the Yosemite Falls loop trail; stop 6 on the free shuttle.  The meadow is opposite the shuttle stop.  A paved path circumnavigates the majority of the meadow.  In addition to the oaks and cedar in my photo, a beautiful elm tree stands alone near the northern edge of the meadow and makes a great subject to photograph during a snowstorm.  If the shroud of clouds retreats, views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome can be experienced from many spots around the meadow.  While the path can be hard to locate with snow on it, please do your best to stay on it.  Even when dormant, disruption of soil from footsteps can disrupt the growth of native grasses and wildflowers.