Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man

Check out this wonderful lecture on Ansel Adams by his former Assistant, Andrea Stillman.

for more video on and about Ansel Adams, see our Video page

White House Ruin

White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942 -- available as an Archival Replica

White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942 — available as an Archival Replica

“Only when I had completed the prints [of this image] months later did I realize why the subject had a familiar aspect: I had seen the remarkable photographer made by Timothy O’Sullivan in 1873, in an album of his original prints that I once possessed. I had stood unaware in almost the same spot of the canyon floor, about the same month and day, and at nearly the same time of day that O’Sullivan must have made his exposure, almost exactly sixty-nine years earlier.” Adams’ photograph differs from O’Sullivan’s; he included a triangle of sky in the upper right corner and used a filter to darken the sky and cliffs.

White House Ruin is featured as one of the Images of the Southwest

Dogwood Blossoms

Ansel Adams made this image with a 5″ x 7″ view camera in 1938, the year he trekked through the high sierra with Edward Weston. Depending upon the year, dogwoods typically peak during April or May in Yosemite , evoking bursts of starlight against the bare forest backdrop. This dramatic contrast prompted Adams to compose one of his only still-life images. To capture the 12 blossoms in this spectacular spray of dogwoods, he placed them atop a nearby rock covered with pine needles and lichen.

The Sierra Club published “Dogwood Blossoms” in 1960 after Ansel Adams selected it, along with 15 other images, for inclusion in “Portfolio III, Yosemite Valley .” Later, Adams selected it for his Museum Set Collection, a retrospective portfolio of what he considered his strongest work. The image has been published in Classic Images , the book based on the Museum Set, Yosemite and the Range of Light (out of print) , Yosemite, The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, Yosemite and the High Sierra, and Ansel Adams Monograph (out of print)

Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, 1944 – Modern Replica in sizes up to 30″x38″

Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine

Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, 1944 by Ansel Adams

On four successive mornings Adams tried to take this photograph from the east side of the Sierra. On the fifth day it was still dark and bitterly cold when he set up his camera on the new platform on top of his car and retreated to the warm interior. As dawn drew near, he returned to the camera to await the sun’s first rays on the meadow. “I finally encountered the bright, glistening sunrise with light clouds streaming from the southeast and casting swift moving shadows on the meadow and dark rolling hills.” At the last possible moment, the horse turn to offer a profile view. Many years later he wrote “Somethings I think I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter!”

Purchase this Modern Replica

Re-Introducing “Half Dome, Olmsted Point”

Half Dome, Olmsted Point – Yosemite Special Edition Photograph has been re-released

Half Dome, Olmstead Point - A Yosemite Special Edition Photograph

Half Dome, Olmsted Point – A Yosemite Special Edition Photograph by The Ansel Adams Gallery

It has been many years since this photograph, part of the Yosemite Special Edition Photograph series has been available. Half Dome, Olmsted Point was photographed by Ansel Adams in 1959. We are pleased to be able to re-introduce this stately photograph back into the series. Purchase this Photograph

Yosemite Special Edition Photographs – Ansel Adams launched the Yosemite Special Edition series in 1958. Today, Alan Ross makes each Special Edition Photograph by hand from Adams’ original negative on gelatin silver fiber paper. Ross, a master printer and fine art photographer in his own right, began working side-by-side with Adams as his photographic assistant in 1974; he’s been the exclusive printer of this series since 1975. Each of the prints in this limited series bears an identifying stamp. Yosemite Special Edition Photographs are available only from The Ansel Adams Gallery. Starting at $295. See all Yosemite Special Edition Photographs

Stone & Brush: The Paintings of Penny Otwell

Exhibit runs from August 20th – September 30th (Reception September 13th, from 3-5 PM) at The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park.

Like the voice of a singer, a visual artist has her own signature style.  I am an “alto” in the choir of painters I know.  My work has evolved from 48 years of painting outdoors and hiking in the Yosemite Sierra. Using a brush and palette knife to design paintings of granite and metamorphic mountains, here is my 2012 show, STONE & BRUSH. See more of  Penny Otwell’s artwork

 This past winter was unique as the High Country roads were open due to the lack of snow.  I did an initial series of drawings on large paper starting in December 2011, working “en plein air” without the normal crowds of people at the most popular spots.  At Glacier Point and on Tioga Pass road I next worked drawings in ink directly on canvas (30 x 24”) for paintings I would complete in the studio.  The work began to change, leaving visible lines next to opaque and transparent paint and the paintings began to sing to me with clarity.

Each piece has several thin transparent glazes that produce a rich depth and harmony. Oranges, golds, teal greens — but few blues, another big change in my work for this show.  As the year progressed, this series of paintings of warm shadows, instead of cool, gathered into a cohesive body of work.

In books I’ve studied about painting, I’ve learned to leave ”line” out of my work, focusing on shapes.  But I decided to let line predominate because of my love of drawing.  This journey has been a fun exploration of line and color.  Some paintings were done from drawings I made in Yosemite in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and others were drawn just this year.  *

The paintings reflect my connection with nature while the line portrays the strength of the mountains and the jewel tones communicate how I feel about them.  I trust they will sing for you!

 Penny Otwell, 2012

Unicorn Peak, Thunderclouds

Unicorn Peak, Thunderclouds by Ansel Adams

Unicorn Peak, Thunderclouds by Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams made this image with a medium format camera around 1967 in late spring or early summer when heavy snow still swathed the granite peaks of the Cathedral Range south of Tuolomne Meadows. The billowing thunderclouds piled high above the peak are atypical so early in the year and indicate the photograph was taken on an exceptionally hot day when the heat would have created the massive evaporation to form the clouds.

For many years, Adams led photography workshops in Yosemite . Each June, hundreds of students would arrive for the two-week sessions. The workshops often visited the high sierra and Adams may have captured this image during a workshop excursion, using it as an example of visualizing a subject from concept to print.


High Sierra Loop

With over 800 miles of trails to choose from in the park, there is one fifty mile loop that holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Yosemite ‘s devoted. It is a route that gives an up close and personal view of the mountains that John Muir dubbed “The Range of Light.”

I have friends who have done it in a single day “for fun” though most people take a week to ten days to cover the same terrain. I’d take even longer if I could. I am referring, of course, to the High Sierra Loop, a series of connected trails that take in some of the best scenery the park has to offer, mixed in with the type of rustic luxury that backpackers dream about. Hot meals, occasional showers and a night’s sleep in a real bed can be had in Yosemite ‘s high country by staying in a High Sierra Camp. Likewise, one can simply hike the Loop on their own, camping as they go.

It is not that I don’t appreciate the challenge of covering nearly fifty miles and over 10,000 feet of elevation changes in a single day, but this is country to stroll through, to ease into and to sit and admire. It is a different beauty than that of Yosemite Valley , which is a vertical world. Here the same materials that compose 3,000-foot vertical walls in Yosemite Valley are spread horizontally over miles in a sweep of sinuous granite slabs stitched together with a network of spirited streams. It takes time to properly explore.

The High Sierra Loop with its five camps spaced six to ten miles apart are clearly intended to ease one’s journey so that it is as comfortable as it is memorable. Due to their popularity, most of the camp accommodations are allocated early in the year through a lottery, though it is worthwhile to check for random openings mid-season due to cancellations, especially midweek. And the chance of scoring a meals-only reservation for one of the family style dinners makes it at least worthwhile to carry a credit card into the backcountry. Call (559) 253-5674 from May through September to make reservations.

While the camp accommodations can be hard to come by, there is no shortage of opinions about whether one should proceed clockwise or counter- clockwise for the most enjoyable circuit of the loop. The proponents for each are evenly divided and equally passionate. Finish at Vogelsang or Glen Aulin? Start in Yosemite Valley or the high country? It is hard to go wrong and in my opinion, if you can’t secure one of the coveted spots in a camp itself, try splitting the loop into segments that can be hiked as day trips or two- and three-day backpacks over the course of several visits.

For the sake of this article, we’ll move counter-clockwise on the loop to each of the five camps.

Glen Aulin:
At 7,800 feet in elevation, Glen Aulin is 5.7 miles distant from and nearly 1,000 feet lower than Tuolumne Meadows. Water is only a whisker away from camp, with the roar of White Cascade practically drowning out conversation in this picturesque spot at the confluence of Conness Creek and the Tuolumne River . The name Glen Aulin means “beautiful glen” and refers to the quiet glade just below the camp where the river takes a break from its riotous journey to meander through aspen and waist high lupine.

Likewise, the upper section of the trail, between Tuolumne Meadows and Twin Bridges is a long, leisurely passage through a parade of pines that occasionally open to frame views of the river. Below Twin Bridges, however, everything changes. For over five miles, between the bridges and Return Creek, the trail parallels the river’s plunge into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne . It is an unforgettable stretch of whitewater rushing over exquisitely polished granite that includes Tuolumne Fall, White Cascade, California Fall, Le Conte Falls, Waterwheel Fall and myriad other unnamed cataracts. Early in the season, the water races through the canyon like an Olympic bobsledder with each cascade seemingly determined to outdo the one above it. As summer progresses, the pace slackens and the delicate beauty of rivulets and eddies is a worthy substitute for the raw power of spring snowmelt. When asked to choose one place in a region overflowing with superlatives, many Yosemite devotees consider this the finest trail in the park.

May Lake:
Continuing in our counterclockwise direction, the next leg of journey is to May Lake , which is 1,400 feet higher than Glen Aulin, an elevation gain that is spread out over eight miles of trail. The lake, which is situated at 9,200 feet in elevation at the base of Mt. Hoffmann , was named for Lucy Mayotta Browne, the future bride of Charles Fredrick Hoffmann, for whom the peak is named. Hoffmann was cartographer for the geologic survey team that mapped out much of the Yosemite region between 1863-67.

Mount Hoffmann is an impressive and surprisingly accessible peak. It rises in an imposing granite wall that forms the entire western shore of May Lake . But the granite palisade can be skirted to the south and the 10,850 summit gained via a hike of just over a mile up its sandy slope. The geographic center of Yosemite, the peak offers spectacular views of Half Dome to the south and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne to north, and a herd of bear-sized marmots to greet you at the top.

While eight miles from Glen Aulin, May Lake ‘s idyllic location is deceptively close to the Tioga Road , boosting its popularity as a destination. A one-mile spur off of Tioga Road ends at the trailhead (elevation 8,400 feet). From there, it is a little over a mile to the lake.

The youngest of the High Sierra Camps (established in 1961), Sunrise sits astride broad granite benches on the western edge of Long Meadow, with the upraised Columbia Finger and razor thin Matthes Crest to the east and the Clark Range to the south. The trail from Tioga Road to Sunrise crosses Tenaya Creek and gains over 1,700 feet steadily before dropping down into the meadow bowl and the camp at about 9,400 feet. An early morning start is advisable for this hike, as it can be a hot climb up the exposed ridge from Tenaya Lake in the afternoon. No matter the time of day, the views of Tenaya Lake and Half Dome along the way are exceptional. Many hikers opt to stop at Sunrise Lakes , three small lakes on either side of the trail, rather than continuing on to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp itself. Hidden roughly a mile from Sunrise Lakes is Mildred Lake, tucked like a blue gem set in a ring of granite below 10,560 ft. Tresidder Peak. Facing west, Mildred Lake is far enough off the beaten track to provide solitude and a supreme Sierra experience.

Merced Lake:
Established in 1916, Merced Lake High Sierra Camp is situated at 7,214 feet in elevation, and is the oldest, and the last of the original three camps.* There is no easy way to get to Merced Lake. It is a three thousand foot elevation gain in thirteen miles from Yosemite Valley, ten miles and 2,200 feet downhill from Sunrise and roughly eight miles and 5,000 vertical feet of uphill and downhill hiking to get to/from Vogelsang. Distance alone makes each of those hikes challenging on a good day. Factor in the elevation gained or lost, depending on which direction one comes from, and it can be an epic journey.

My first impression of Merced Lake was that it paled in comparison to its counterparts. After multiple trips, I grew to appreciate both the hikes into Merced Lake and what the location has to offer. It is a subtler beauty and slower paced location than the other camps, that, because of the scale of its elements, feels like a trip backward to prehistoric times.

Hiking the thirteen miles stretch from the trailhead at Happy Isles, past Vernal and Nevada Fall and through Little Yosemite Valley to Merced Lake is a long journey. It is also beautiful. The long gradual ascent is much like the Tuolumne River between Glen Aulin and Return Creek, only in reverse. But here, the canyon walls are even taller and the surrounding features even more impressive. Sheets of water slide down granite slabs, slamming from one side to the other and the cascades are too numerous to count.

Merced Lake itself is a quiet stretch between cascades that is surrounded by steep granite cliffs and is home to some of the largest trees and bears in the park. While many of the other camps are destinations unto themselves, Merced Lake is a terrific base camp for accessing surrounding terrain. Popular day hikes include the summit of 11,522 ft. Mount Clark, the Lyell Fork of the Merced (one of Ansel’s favorite spots), and Washburn Lake .

If there is one location that fits the image of a “High Sierra Camp”, it is Vogelsang, which is the highest of the camps, at 10,300 feet in elevation. The complex is at the base of Mt. Fletcher alongside Fletcher Creek, which wraps around the camp, its gentle gurgles providing a pleasant backdrop to dinner.

There are actually two trails between Merced Lake and Vogelsang, but my personal favorite is the Lewis Creek Trail, which climbs nearly 1,000 feet in about half a mile to a pass from which one can gaze upon Vogelang Lake to the west and Gallison and Ireland Lake to the east.

It is a view that will easily take your mind off your trail weary bones, and call to mind a passage from a 1932 Sierra Club Bulletin:

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being. There are some that care not to listen but the disciples are drawn to the high altars with magnetic certainty, knowing that a great Presence hovers over the range.” –Ansel Adams

From Vogelsang back to “civilization” in Tuolumne Meadows is a seven-mile, gradual, downhill hike via the Rafferty Creek Trail, or if you aren’t in a hurry, you can take the longer route past Evelyn Lake over to Lyell Canyon.

* The other two charter High Sierra Camps, Tenaya Lake and Booth Lake no longer exist. Tenaya Lake High Sierra Camp was removed, and the camp at Booth Lake was moved to present day Vogelsang.

Mount Ansel Adams, Lyell Fork

Mt Ansel Adams, Lyell Fork

Mt Ansel Adams, Lyell Fork – a Yosemite Special Edition Photograph

Ansel Adams made this image with a 3 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ Zeiss Jewel view camera. Precisely when he made the image is debatable; some evidence points to 1943, but it may have been on a pack trip in September 1938 with Georgia O’Keeffe and David McAlpin.

The Lyell Fork of the Merced River with its high, remote peaks and sapphire necklace of lakes was among Adams’ favorite areas in Yosemite . In 1934, he led a Sierra Club outing to the Lyell Fork and the group climbed the then unnamed peak Adams called the Tower in Lyell Fork. Around the campfire that evening, the group agreed that the peak should bear Adams ‘ name. However, the U.S. Geological Survey does not permit naming features for living individuals, so the peak did not officially become Mt. Ansel Adams until 1985, a year and one day after his death.

The peak is not the only place name in the Sierra Nevada honoring Adams . After his death, the California Wilderness Act championed by California Senators Alan Cranston and Pete Wilson enlarged the Minarets Wilderness Area to its present 231,005-acre size and renamed it the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area. The act protected the core of the high sierra that Adams so loved, establishing the contiguous wilderness areas of Kings Canyon , John Muir, Yosemite , and Ansel Adams.

“Mt. Ansel Adams” appears in Yosemite, Our National Parks, and Yosemite and the Range of Light .

Ansel Adams’ Yosemite Special Edition Photographs

Affordable Authentic Ansel Adams Prints

Thunderstorm, Yosemite Valley

Thunderstorm, Yosemite Valley

One of Ansel Adams’ personal commitments was to share his energy and abilities in support of the things he believed in, most notably, photography and the environment.

In the cause of both, Ansel and his wife, Virginia, selected six photographs of Yosemite and offered them for sale through her family business, Best’s Studio, in Yosemite National Park. The years was 1958.

Ansel’s intent was to present photography as an affordable art and to showcase the environmental grandeur of Yosemite National Park. Never much of a fan of the “curios” that were the staple of most Park concessioners at the time, he also wanted to offer visitors a quality memento of their time in Yosemite.

The 8×10 prints would be made from the original negatives by an assistant under Ansel’s precise direction and be printed in sufficiently large batches to make them affordable.

This collection, entitled the Yosemite Special Edition Photographs, proved immensely popular and over the years, Ansel added more images to the set until the total was capped at 30 at the time of his passing in 1984.

Today, Best’s Studio is known as the Ansel Adams Gallery, and continues as a family-run business. Ansel’s Special Edition Photographs of Yosemite are a mainstay of the Gallery’s offerings and heritage. Each print is still made by hand directly from Ansel’s original negatives, using his approach and methodology to ensure strict adherence to his standards and aesthetic.

And while Ansel’s archives eventually became part of the permanent collection of the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona at Tucson, he made special provisions for the Special Edition Photograph negatives to be held back from the archive so that the tradition of offering high-quality original art at affordable prices would continue as his personal legacy in support of the arts and the environment.

Making the Special Edition Prints: Chosen by Ansel

I became Ansel’s assistant in the middle of 1974, working with Ted Orland, who had been Ansel’s primary assistant for the previous two years.

When Ted left in early 1975, I inherited not only the responsibility of keeping all of Ansel’s photographic operations running, but also the making of the Special Edition prints. Don Worth, Gerry Sharpe, Liliane DeCock, and Ted had all served in this capacity before me, all of us working as Ansel’s eyes and hands in the darkroom. Not easy, but an immensely rewarding challenge.

Although Ansel’s hands were not in direct contact with the Special Edition printing, his vision always was. He was consulted through test and sample prints, and the challenge was to be able to anticipate and respond technically to his requests.

”Make it a little darker over here,” he would suggest, or, ”Can you make it a bit more contrasty?” he would ask. The final approval was a slap on the back along with a hearty, “Ya got it, man!”

In 1979, I left Ansel’s employ to open my own studio in San Francisco, but he liked the way I was printing his negatives and asked me to continue making the Special Edition prints. In his autobiography, Ansel said, “Alan was my photographic assistant from 1974 until 1979, and he continues to make the Special Edition Prints with sensitivity.  He knows those negatives thoroughly and interprets them as closely as possible to my original fine prints of those images.”

Making the Special Edition Photographs is an assignment I continue to this day, with Ansel’s vision and standards always in mind as I work. The prints are still made directly from Ansel’s negatives and in the “traditional” way: in a wet darkroom with amber safelights, chemicals and running water. The prints are still silver-gelatin prints, meaning that the image-forming element is literally metallic silver. Precious.

And after nearly 40 years, I can honestly say that I never tire of seeing these images come up in the developing tray. It’s an honor and privilege to play a small part in continuing Ansel’s legacy.

To see the full selection of the Yosemite Special Edition Prints.

For the technical details on the making of the Special Edition prints, click here.

Blog post courtesy of Alan Ross Photography and  Freestyle Photographic Supplies