Ansel Adams was our photographer-advocate laureate of the national parks. This outstandng volume combines a look at his efforts both to capture the meaning of the parks and to lobby on their behalf. Fortified with a Guggenheim Fellowship in the 1940s, Adams was able to travel throughout the U.S. to visit the many national parks outside of his beloved, native California. This volume greatly benefits from those travels in creating his ideas and the 80 black and white images contained in it.
As Ansel Adams reminds us, "The National Parks, are, indeed a phenomena of an advanced society . . . ." When Yellowstone was established by President Grant in 1872, it was the first national park in the history of the world. Since then, we have been in a race between despoiling our wilderness environment and retaining some of it in national parks. The challenge is heightened by the pressures to commercialize and increase access to wilderness areas. How many people should visit Yosemite each year? These are the questions that Ansel Adams anticipated and helped us address. These questions are even more relevant and important today than when he first raised them. "Possessions, both material and spiritual, are appreciated most when we find ourselves in peril of losing them."
"There is a constant erosion of the concept and the reality of wilderness." Unfortunately, Adams was much more successful as a photographer than in achieving his environmental vision. Will his final epitaph of the future be of someone who captured images of what does not exist any more? I certainly hope not.
I recommend the preface by William A. Turnage very highly to understand Ansel Adams' vision and its effects on our society. The preface also contains a delightful section by Nancy Newhall on what it was like to be Ansel Adams' assistant for his dawn photography treks.
This book contains much more written material by Ansel Adams on conservation and the national parks than in any other book of his photographs that I have seen. I enjoyed reading about his ideas, and they helped me understand his photography better as well. He is trying to show us "the clear realities of Nature seen with the inner eye of the spirit [to] reveal the ultimate echo of God."
As I mentioned in the title to this review, the publisher put these images on pages that are too small to capture the detail of Adams' work in most cases. In fairness to the publisher, I should also point out that remarkable efforts have been made to reproduce these images well in the small format. Compared to other small reproductions of these same images, these are by far the best I have seen.
Some compositions in fact succeed in overcoming the limitations of the page size. These include:
Cliff Palace Ruin, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, 1941
Leaves, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, 1942
Forest, Early Morning, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington, 1949
Leaf, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 1948
Forest, Beartrack Cove, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, 1949
Teklanika River, Denali National Park, Alaska, 1947
Mount McKinley from Stoney Pass, Denali National Park, Alaska, 1948
Cinder Cone in Crater of Haleakala, Haleakala National Park, Hawaii, 1956
Mount Lassen from Devastated Area, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, 1949
Mount Clarence King, Pool, Kings Canyon National Park, California, 1932
Many of the other photographs will be familiar to Ansel Adams' fans. If you have seen them reproduced in larger sizes, you can use your memory to add the missing detail. In this size though, the details being indistinct is like erasing chapters from a novel. Adams often accentuated reflections of details between different natural features in his compositions. When some details are obscured in small size, the reflections thus are not available to stimulate your mind.
In keeping with the spirit of Ansel Adams, I suggest that you consider becoming active in organizations (like the Sierra Club, which Adams belonged to for many years) that fight to save wilderness areas. If your great grandchildren are ever to experience the spiritual cleansing of the wilderness, we each must act now.
"Solitude, so vital to the individual man, is almost nowhere."